Start of Free Agency Could Be Delayed If Labor Talks Progress


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Jan 22, 2006
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Start of Free Agency Could Be Delayed If Labor Talks Progress
Thursday, February 16, 2006; Page E02

The start of free agency could be pushed back from March 3 to April 1 if there is sufficient progress in labor negotiations to warrant such a delay, according to sources around the league.

The problem is, there has been no progress in labor talks.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw decided against spending last week in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl and instead returned to the East Coast after the Super Bowl in Detroit to resume deliberations on a possible extension of the collective bargaining agreement. The current labor deal keeps the sport's salary cap system in place through the 2006 season, then there would be a season without a salary cap in 2007 before the agreement expires.

The uncertain outlook on the labor front has executives from teams around the league fretting as they attempt to get their salary cap situations in order and prepare for the opening of the free agent market. They think that delaying the start of free agency would make sense if it would mean there possibly could be a new labor deal in place so that teams would know exactly what they're dealing with by the time they begin signing players.

Opening free agency with only one season remaining on the labor agreement would create a number of salary cap problems for teams, including the fact that they could prorate the signing bonuses in long-term players' contracts over only four seasons for salary cap accounting purposes instead of the maximum seven.

One participant in the labor negotiations said Tuesday, though, that there's no need at this point to contemplate pushing back free agency because there's no sign yet that a few extra weeks would produce a deal.
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