Rooney: NFL without salary cap possible

| Saturday, Jan. 31, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. - Steelers chairman Dan Rooney hopes that the owners and players will reach a labor agreement before the 2010 season.

But Rooney said there is a "definite possibility" that a chasm between the two sides could eventually lead to the small-market Steelers having to compete in a league without spending limits.

The players and owners remain far apart on a new collective bargaining agreement, and commissioner Roger Goodell dismissed a study released by the NFL Players Association that said the league is awash in money.

"There is a lot of fiction in that report," Goodell said Thursday of the study that claims NFL owners made an average of almost $25 million last season.

If a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached before the end of next season, the 2010 season will be played without a salary cap. If that happens, the NFLPA has said it will never agree to another deal that has a salary cap.

The two sides can't engage in any serious negotiations until the NFLPA settles on a successor to former union boss Gene Upshaw, who died in August. The NFLPA is expected to elect a new executive director in March.

"As the commissioner said, we'll work with that person, and hopefully it is someone that is workable and is looking at the game the way Gene Upshaw did," Rooney said. "Unless we get people to sit down and be reasonable and work things out, anything can happen."

Unhappy with a deal that gives the players roughly 60 percent of gross revenues, the owners in May voided the final two years of the collective bargaining agreement. That could lead to a lockout in 2011.

The NFLPA maintained it is willing to work toward a new agreement but remained firm that it will not make the concessions the owners are seeking.

An NFLPA-commissioned study found that teams averaged $24.7 million in profits last season, and the value of NFL franchises has grown from $288 million to a little more than $1 billion in the past 10 years.

"The revenue pie has continued to grow, and the players see no reason why their slice of the pie should be any smaller," NFLPA interim executive director Richard Berthelsen said.

Goodell called the NFLPA figures regarding owners' profits last year "completely inaccurate."

Berthelsen said the players have amassed more than $200 million in an emergency fund in the event of a lockout.

"This is a good thing we've got going between the players and owners," said new NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, who plays center for the Tennessee Titans. "But players understand the implications of what could happen, and I believe we'll stand together, because without the players, there is no NFL. Hopefully we won't have to get to that point."

The league has enjoyed labor peace since 1987, and Rooney said it is too early to fret about a work stoppage or the potential loss of the salary cap.

He added that most deals, in any negotiations, don't get done until right before a deadline.

"We have to get to the (bargaining) table," Rooney said.

"I am optimistic that we're going to be able to sit down with the union and reach an agreement," Goodell said.

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