NFL remains in labor limbo
By Barry Wilner, AP Pro Football Writer
NEW YORK -- Less than two weeks before some training camps are scheduled to open, the National Football League remains in labor limbo.
Lawyers for the two sides met Monday in New York to clarify language from previous discussions. Several issues are close to resolution, the most significant being the split of total revenues between owners and players.
But snags involving a rookie wage scale, free agency rules and benefits for retired players have slowed the process. While the league's negotiators hope they can present a new collective bargaining agreement to all the owners at their July 21 meeting in Atlanta, not striking a deal before then figures to cause postponement of the start of training camps, and probably cancellation of the Hall of Fame game Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio.
The St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears are set to play in that game, and both teams planned to open training camp at the end of next week.
The National Football League would need about a week to get the new deal ratified and in place, meaning teams couldn't start signing free agents or draftees, make trades or begin workouts until the end of the month. That would jeopardize the first weekend of exhibition games, Aug. 11-15, at a cost of upward of $60 million in overall revenues.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and several owners will negotiate with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and members of the players' executive board Tuesday. Extensive negotiations last Thursday and Friday seemed promising, but the parties were unable to close the gap on the rookie wage scale -- a subject that wasn't nearly as contentious in earlier sessions.
At issue is how many first-round picks would fall under the wage scale, and the length of contracts teams could offer those rookies. The savings on salaries were supposed to go to veteran players and toward retirees' benefits.
Some player agents, particularly those who often represent high draft picks, have opposed a rookie wage scale, saying it eventually would limit earning power for all players.
One proposal, according to a person familiar with the negotiations, would limit the top overall pick to about $7 million a year for five years, with the option to renegotiate after the third year. Sam Bradford signed with St. Louis in 2010 for $78 million over six years, including a record $50 million in guaranteed money. Under that system, this year's first selection, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, would have exceeded those numbers.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because details of the negotiations are supposed to be private, said minimum salaries for players in their first four years would increase from 17 percent in their first year to 12 percent in their fourth year.
The players insist that unrestricted free agency begin after four seasons, as it did before 2010 when there was a salary cap. Owners, naturally, prefer the six-year minimum in place in 2010 (without a salary cap), and also would like more than the one right-of-first-refusal transition tag they had under the previous CBA.
Each side remains divided on how a "legacy fund" for retired players would be financed, as well.
This week's talks will be held without Judge Arthur Boylan, the court-appointed mediator who is on vacation. He has ordered both sides to be in his court in Minneapolis on July 19 to continue negotiations while hoping a deal gets done before he returns.
Should negotiations last beyond July 19 -- or the owners' meeting two days later -- that could lead to even deeper cuts in the preseason.