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Owners' deliberations likely to go right to deadline

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- The National Football League embarked on its version of "The Longest Day" Wednesday.

The only thing the 32 NFL owners could agree on as they began an all-day negotiating session was their desire to maintain labor peace. But the realities of the cost of that labor peace are troubling to them. If they accept Gene Upshaw's final proposal, they will have to model their teams' budgets out of 40.5 percent of the league's $6 billion in total revenues.

By 8 p.m., the owners need to come up with a revenue-sharing formula that will make the six-year labor agreement work. Most owners entered the day saying there was only a 50-50 chance of getting it done.

"We're not even close to a consensus," Colts owner Jimmy Irsay said.

The scene was active inside and outside of the meeting room at the Dallas-Fort Worth Grand Hyatt ballroom. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and other owners kept coming out of the room armed with charts of different revenue-sharing formulas.

A deal-maker by trade, Jones was working the ballroom with different revenue formulas. Even though he's one of the leaders of the high-revenue block of votes not in favor of revenue sharing, Jones has been doing his best to come up with a deal. He knows labor peace is vital to the long-term future of the NFL.

Owners took a lunch break at around 1:30 p.m. ET after more than four hours of meetings. At least four different revenue plans are being studied, but two have drawn the most attention so far.

There is a Pittsburgh model being pushed by Dan and Art Rooney of the Steelers. The plan would have each team put 25 percent of local revenues into a pool that would be distributed to teams in the lower end of the revenue streams.

There is a New England Patriots/New York Jets model that expands on an already existing local revenue sharing plan. Currently, $40 million of local revenue is being shared. The Patriots/Jets model expands that number significantly.

At this stage, though, no system has the 24 votes needed to pass.

Should the owners vote against Upshaw's proposal before tonight's deadline, free agency will start at midnight ET and the NFL's economic model will begin to change over the next three years. This season would be the last in which there is a salary cap. In 2007, there would be no cap and and players would have to wait until after their sixth season to become a free agent. In 2008, the CBA expires, and if no deal is done before then, the NFLPA would likely decertify. A lockout would come next.

Upshaw tied a revenue-sharing demand to his six-year proposal because he wants to make sure the lower-revenue teams will have enough money to spend on players.

"There are a lot of good-meaning people in there trying really hard to look at the other guy's point of view," Jones said. "This is the deal. At the end of the day, it's all about the deal. But this is a rough deal. We have to look at how we operate clubs."

One of the concerns Wednesday morning was the support for the low-revenue clubs. If the deal passes, the 2006 cap is expected to be $102 million, and could be $109 million in 2007. Though player costs will be reasonably fixed because of a cash over cap formula that prevents teams from dramatically outspending other teams, some of the low-revenue teams are concerned that this deal will cost too much.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson sounds like an owner who will vote against the CBA. He's troubled by the numbers. He related a conversation between former Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley and former baseball union leader Marvin Miller.

"Walter told Marvin, 'Don't steal it all at once. Just steal a little bit at a time,'" Wilson recalled.

Wilson says this deal takes too much, and it troubles him.

But other owners know what kind of impact labor problems will cause. Word out of New York is that banking firms will raise the NFL's borrowing rating if this deal isn't approved. No one wants to think about the legal costs of the many lawsuits that will follow if the league heads to a 2008 lockout.

Despite earlier forecasts of anger and fights, the mood within the room has been professional and businesslike. Raiders owner Al Davis made everyone laugh Tuesday night with his comments.

"There were a lot of very friendly people who were willing to give away money," Davis said of the revenue-sharing proposals. "The problem is the money they are willing to give away is someone else's, and it's not theirs."

Owners plan to work until the 8 p.m. deadline to come up with a plan.

"What is good is that this is the most informed ownership I've seen in 17 years," Jones said. "They've dug down to understand the specifics beyond anything that you [would] have seen 10 years ago. There are some talented people in there. I hope something good will come of it."

In the meantime, they keep working.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.