KAPALUA, Hawaii — NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue warned team owners Monday that negotiations on the collective-bargaining agreement had "exhausted themselves" and reached a "dead end."
The annual league meetings opened on that ominous note, underscoring one of the NFL's priorities: extending the labor agreement beyond 2007. It has been the league's policy to renew the pact well in advance of its expiration.
One of the main reasons the NFL has been able to grow its fan base over the last decade or so is that -- unlike in the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball -- there have been no work stoppages. That's because of the agreement and the mostly harmonious relationship between the league and the players' union. But these negotiations have been more difficult than some had predicted.
The main sticking point concerns how much team revenue should be used to pay players' salaries. The union wants the salary cap based on the total football revenue of teams -- not the current system of relying on a fixed amount of gross revenue. The current system doesn't take into account much of the ancillary money that higher-revenue teams generate from lucrative stadium deals, local sponsorship, advertising and the like.
The league argues that the NFL Players Assn. needs to take into account the enormous cost of stadiums that have been built in recent years. Many of the high-revenue teams need that extra money to service the debt on their new stadiums.
Tagliabue said the league was "trying to get to a level of the salary cap that all the clubs can live with, even those clubs with below-average revenue."
A special league meeting to further grapple with the issue has been set for April.
The 2005 season will open Thursday night, Sept. 8, when New England plays host to Oakland, the Raiders' first visit to Foxboro since the 2001 playoffs when the outcome -- a Patriot victory -- hinged on the controversial tuck rule. The Monday night opener between Atlanta and Philadelphia is a rematch of last season's NFC championship game.
Team owners are expected to get an update today on the status of the four competing Los Angeles-area stadium concepts. League executive Neil Glat, a key player in evaluating the sites, said owners should have enough information by the May meetings to select a site.
Glat said "it's conceivable" that one or more of the sites -- the Coliseum, Rose Bowl, Anaheim and Carson -- could drop out of the stadium derby before then.