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Agent: NFL labor talks a 'mess'

NEW YORK — NFL owners have been heard on the labor front. So have the players.

What about the agents?

Some say they aren't expecting much progress in negotiations between the NFL and the players' union before the collective bargaining agreement expires March 3.

"The reason for that date is it's the end of the league year," said Joe Linta, who represents Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco and three dozen other players. "Sure, an extension could be coming. If I still believe in Santa Claus, I still have hope."

Linta is among many agents who believe every other issue will get resolved quickly enough once the owners and union agree on how to split nearly $9 billion in revenues.

The owners get $1 billion off the top for operating expenses and are seeking an additional $1 billion. The players note how popular the league is, with record TV ratings, and say they shouldn't have to take a pay cut.

"It's all about money, as it always is," Linta said Friday, "and everything will flow from there once there's a macro agreement."

Ralph Cindrich has been through every labor dispute between players and owners dating to the 1970s and the union's infancy. While saying of the state of negotiations "it's fair to call it a mess," Cindrich also concludes "it's too early to panic," and when both parties want to seriously negotiate, they will.

"When they come to the time period when decisions need to be made, that's when they will get down to something," said Cindrich, who represents Steelers linebacker James Farrior and Colts center Jeff Saturday, among many others.

A key issue is the owners' intent to include a rookie wage scale, which Linta calls "way overblown," and Peter Schaffer, All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas' agent, says is "scouting insurance against poor selection decisions."

The rookie wage scale proposed by the owners would cover a five-year period. Many players and their representatives say that translates into a veteran wage scale, too, by limiting earnings for players whose average career is less than five years.

Besides, Schaffer says in an e-mail to The Associated Press, a rookie wage scale wouldn't really help NFL owners' spending concerns, and it would damage college football by causing a rush of underclassmen turning pro earlier so they could get to free agency quicker.

"The reality is that the current NFL Draft system in its entirety is a tremendous economic windfall to the NFL teams," Schaffer said, "as it provides a large source of cheap, young labor to the league signed for contracts exceeding four years.

That's not true for the highest picks in the draft — Rams quarterback Sam Bradford signed a deal with $50 million guaranteed as the top selection last year. But, as Linta mentions, the extremely lucrative contracts go to a dozen or fewer rookies.

Devin McCourty, selected 27th overall last April, received $10 million over five years, which Schaffer said wasn't in the top 60 for cornerbacks. McCourty started for New England and made the Pro Bowl.

Eugene Parker, who has Ndamukong Suh, the Defensive Rookie of the Year, among his clients, sees a rookie wage scale as an incentive for agents to potentially not represent players coming out of college.

"It could be a scenario like basketball where the salaries are fixed, and there really is little negotiating room for the agent up front," Parker told Sirius NFL Radio yesterday, "and if that is the case, you will see more and more agents focusing on the vet players than on the rookie players."

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