Cutting edge on Broncos' horizon


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Jan 22, 2006
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Cutting edge on Broncos' horizon
By Mike Klis
Denver Post Staff Writer

Hate to do this, Broncos fans, but the NFL labor woes can no longer be classified as premature and therefore be ignored.

The tough words delivered Tuesday by commissioner Paul Tagliabue commanded attention throughout the league.

Now hear this: Come Thursday night, unless defensive linemen Trevor Pryce and Courtney Brown and tight end Jeb Putzier agree to various forms of salary reduction, the Broncos may release them.

Pryce, who has been with the Broncos since their first Super Bowl championship season in 1997, not in a uniform decorated in orange, blue and swoosh next season? It could happen, all in the name of proration.

"Based on what we heard today, it doesn't sound likely that there will be a deal in place by Friday," Tom Mills, agent for Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith, said Tuesday. "That means come Thursday there could be massive, massive numbers of players cut like we've never seen before."

NFL players union boss Gene Upshaw has been talking gloom and doom for weeks, but because the league is guaranteed to play out its championship season in 2006 and 2007, his words were largely ignored.

There are several intricate and interwoven issues involved in the labor dispute, but at its core is the uncapped year of 2007.

Now that Tagliabue has stepped up to verbally spar with his labor nemesis, there is heightened, league-wide concern that threats could become promises. After talks between the owners and players broke off Tuesday, Tagliabue said the owners would meet Thursday in New York for a special meeting.

In a strongly worded statement Tuesday, the league said Tagliabue and the owners would not revisit the hotly contested revenue-sharing issue at Thursday's meeting, nor would the commissioner push back the free-agent period, which is scheduled to begin Friday.

At Thursday's meeting, Tagliabue will "explain to the NFL clubs how the NFLPA is overreaching, and why we haven't been able to come to an agreement with the NFLPA on an extension."

Broncos owner Pat Bowlen would not comment on the labor situation, citing his position on the owners' labor negotiating committee. He will leave for New York today.

To officially close the 2005 season, all teams must be under the salary cap of roughly $95 million by Thursday night. As of today the Broncos are well north of that figure.

To get under the cap, the Broncos have identified the fairly well-compensated Pryce, Putzier and Brown for contract restructuring. Pryce has a contract that dings the Broncos' cap for more than $10 million in 2006.

Ordinarily, this salary could be jimmied to fit the cap by adding another year or two to his contract, which in turn diminishes his annual average value.

Under the current agreement, a player's contract can be prorated over seven years. But if the league's CBA is not extended by Thursday night, a provision says teams will not operate with a salary cap for the 2007 season, which means contracts can be prorated for only four years.

Thus, a $10 million contract prorated over seven years would count $1.43 million against the 2006 cap; it would count $2.5 million when prorated over four years.

Having fewer years to spread out salaries means players likely would have to take less money to fit the Broncos' cap number.

A pay cut, in other words.

Pryce's agent, Peter Schaffer, has said his client would be open to restructuring only if it didn't include a pay cut.

If Pryce, Putzier and Brown are released, the Broncos could try to re-sign them as free agents.

The diminished proration would have less impact on the Broncos' ability to re-sign their own potential free agents, namely defensive tackle Gerard Warren, offensive tackle Matt Lepsis, running back Ron Dayne and special-teams captain Keith Burns. Negotiations with those players continue to progress, and it would be a surprise if agreements aren't reached by the time the league's 2006 calendar season opens Friday.

However, new proration limitations would make it increasingly difficult for the Broncos to afford outside free agents such as wide receiver Terrell Owens.
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