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Steelers, rest of NFL on hold again

| Monday, March 6, 2006

The Steelers, like the rest of the NFL, found themselves in a holding pattern Sunday.

That's because the league pushed back the deadline for teams to get under the salary cap from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Then, finally, the league moved the deadline back to 9 p.m. Wednesday.

"I wish my mortgage company was so flexible," agent Joe Linta of Freedom said last night.

The start of free agency was also moved back 72 hours, from 12:01 a.m. today until 12:01 a.m. Thursday, giving hope that an extension to the collective bargaining agreement will be reached. Free agency was initially set for 12:01 a.m. last Friday.

The NFL players' association and league owners met yesterday in hopes of coming to an agreement on an extension of the collective bargaining agreement, but talks broke off early in the day.

A snag in talks between the players and owners is revenue sharing. The players want 60 percent; the owners aren't willing to give up that much -- at least that was the case as of late last night.

The owners reportedly offered between 56 and 58 percent of total revenue.

With the 72-hour reprieve, the Steelers continue to set up a restructuring of the contract to Pro Bowl center Jeff Hartings, who was scheduled to count $8.1 million against the salary cap. They already have a restructured deal for running back Duce Staley.

Linta's client, center Chukky Okobi, who is set to make $2 million, also has a restructured plan in place.

"We have our ducks in a row," Linta said. "It just depends if a deal takes place Wednesday ... or Sunday ... or Wednesday again. But we have a contingency plan based on all this."

With a CBA extension, the salary cap will expand from $94.5 million to $105 million, creating room for teams to keep some of their higher-priced players. Without the CBA extension, veteran players with big salaries will be released.

Also, without a CBA, there will be an uncapped year in 2007, changing the dynamic of the league for good.

"The talks ended today after the NFL gave us a proposal which provided a percentage of revenues for the players which would be less than they received over the last 12 years," Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players' Association, said in a statement last night. "After suggesting we extend the waiver deadline from six o'clock to ten this evening, they gave us a new proposal which was worse than their prior offer. Quite naturally, we rejected that proposal and saw no need to continue meeting.

"Under our previous cap agreement, we got just less than 60 percent of all of the revenues. The NFL now wants us to cut that percentage to less than 57 percent. Given the enormous revenue growth the NFL is experiencing, I am not about to give back gains which we have made in the past. It is clear to me that we will do much better under our current CBA in 2006 and particularly in 2007, the uncapped year.

"I continue to believe that the problem lies with the high revenue clubs and the revenue sharing issue. Their refusal to share more revenues is making it worse for everybody -- players, owners, and fans."

Some teams made changes yesterday due to the uncertainty of the CBA. The Jets cut center Kevin Mawae, and the Oakland Raiders released quarterback Kerry Collins.

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