The NFL has enjoyed 18 years of labor peace, and now owners and players are inching toward a new labor agreement that would prolong that run. "I'm encouraged by our progress," players' association executive director Gene Upshaw told SI last Friday. Asked if he felt a deal would be done by December, he said, "I think we'll have it done. I think we're closer to ratification than [to] Armageddon."
Upshaw's optimism is the first sigh of relief since the two sides began regular negotiations early this year. Under the current agreement, which is set to expire after 2007, players receive 65.5% of the league's "defined gross revenue" this year. That amounts to about 88% of club revenue, not including income from such bonanzas as luxury suites and club seating. Upshaw wants to include that extra cash in what his proposal calls "total football revenue." That figure would be divided by 32 as a means to determine each team's salary-cap number. Most owners are willing to include the suite and club-seat money in their gross but are balking at the players' insistence on receiving more than 60% of that total. "The percentage has to start with a six," Upshaw said. "Right now, they're at 57, 58."
One industry insider said if the players get 61% of total football revenue in 2006, the salary cap would move from its current $85.5 million per team to slightly more than $100 million. Meetings are scheduled for each of the next two weeks to try to negotiate those final two or three percentage points.
Said Upshaw, "As [Broncos owner] Pat Bowlen said at our last session, 'If we can't work this out, we all ought to be shot.'"