Gene Upshaw told NFL owners Wednesday he believes eight powerful teams have obtained an unfair advantage over the other 24.
"When we started this process, there were 14 teams above the average and 14 below it, and everyone was close enough to keep things fair," the
executive director of the NFL Players Association said. "Now we have eight haves and 24 have-nots and the haves are getting a discount on
Upshaw, who met with a selected group of owners on the first day of the fall league meetings, is hoping the system will change in a new labor deal.
The current contract expires after the 2008 draft, but negotiations have begun on an extension through the 2011 season. Under the current agreement,
there will be no salary cap for the 2007 season.
"We don't have that much time, because if we actually get to that uncapped year, it's over," Upshaw said. "We'll never get the cap back once it goes
Since the first contract with free agency and the salary cap took effect in 1994, it always has been extended before it expired to avoid the uncapped
year. It was last extended in 2001. Upshaw noted that the high-revenue teams such as Washington and Dallas get more local money, which is not part of
the league's revenue sharing. The union is asking that high-revenue teams contribute more money to the shared pool, a move that would also increase
the salary cap and provide more money for players.
"The money that isn't shared has gone from 30 percent (of total revenues) in 1994 to 37 percent today, and with revenues at almost $6 billion, that's
a significant amount of money," he said. "We've had a good deal for 10 years now, and we want that to go forward, but the model has to change."
Upshaw's presentation impressed Pittsburgh's Dan Rooney, one of the small-market owners who is a proponent of sharing more revenue.
"I thought he handled it very well," said Rooney, who in past labor disputes often has been the moderating voice among owners. "He heard the
objections and he answered them. I think he's got the makings of something we can work with."
High-revenue owners don't agree.
"The union is using published information on gross revenues, and we are looking at net income," Houston's Bob McNair said. "The high-revenue teams are
also the ones that have invested heavily in their franchises, so when you look at what money we have at the end of the day, the disparity isn't of the
significance that some people would have you believe."
Harold Henderson, the league's executive vice president for labor relations, viewed the meeting as another step in the negotiating process.
"In my view, this is a matter of Gene wanting more money for the players, and coming with this idea as a way to do that," he said. "I think their
expectations are excessive and probably are going to be difficult to reach, but that's what a negotiation is all about."
The meetings will continue through Thursday, with topics including the TV contract that expires after 2005; a possible NFL return to Los Angeles; and
an update on progress toward Super Bowl 40, which will be played in Detroit in February 2006.