Still no labor proposal to players from NFL team owners

TAMPA - Nearly 10 months after the NFL owners voted to opt out of the collective-bargaining agreement with the players, the league has yet to make any kind of proposal to the players union regarding changes in the current system.

"It's pretty much up to them to make a proposal of how it should be changed," NFL Players Association acting executive director Dick Berthelsen said yesterday. "And they haven't gotten there yet. We haven't seen much interest on their part in going to the [negotiating] table.

"It's been indicated to us that the owners are formulating their proposal and that we'll hear from them when they have something."

There hasn't been a work stoppage in the NFL since 1987, and there has been labor peace for more than 15 years, ever since the owners and players settled their 5-year court battle and agreed to a salary-cap system with free agency in 1993.

But if the two sides don't work out their differences by March, the salary cap goes bye-bye in 2010, with a lockout likely to follow in 2011.

"If the past is prologue," said Berthelsen, "we will settle this, because we always have. But if not, we have a big question mark on the horizon."

Berthelsen, the NFLPA's longtime in-house counsel, has run the union since executive director Gene Upshaw died in August. The players association will name a permanent replacement for Upshaw in March at its annual meeting in Hawaii.

The association has narrowed the field to five finalists: former Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent, Trace Armstrong, Jim Covert, Ben Utt and DeMaurice Smith. Vincent, Armstrong, Covert and Utt all are former players. Smith is a Washington, D.C.-based criminal lawyer. Vincent and Armstrong, who are considered the front-runners, both have served as union president.

Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae, the NFLPA's current president, said the executive committee will narrow the list to three in the next few weeks and take those names to Hawaii, where the league's 32 player representatives will choose Upshaw's successor.

According to one NFL front-office executive, the league decided there was little point in presenting a proposal to the union until Upshaw's replacement is in place.

Essentially, the owners regret the deal they approved by a 30-2 vote in 2006 that gave the players 60 percent of the league's total football revenue. The deal also forced the league's richer teams to provide revenue aid to some of the less prosperous franchises.

"Football has been a very good business for both the players and owners," Berthelsen said. "I know we're in a state with our economy now where there are a lot of uncertain things. But certainly, looking back, that revenue pie has continued to grow. And the players see no reason why their slice of that pie should be any smaller in the future."

At the union's annual Super Bowl week news conference yesterday, Berthelsen released the results of a study done for the union by two University of Chicago economists. The study, titled "The Economics of NFL Team Ownership," showed that NFL teams are rolling in dough. Its two main conclusions:

* In the last 10 years, NFL franchise values have grown in value from an average of $288 million to $1.04 billion. In the last year alone, average franchise values shot up $83 million.

* The NFL's 32 teams averaged $24.7 million in profit last year and had an average annual return on their franchise of $107.3 million.

Berthelsen acknowledged that nine or 10 teams make significantly less revenue than the others. But he said that can be rectified by additional revenue-sharing.

"If you divide everything by 32, we would not have a problem," he said. *