Spot­light is off the field for NFL head­ing to­ward next sea­son

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS -

FORT LAUD­ERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A mem­o­rable sea­son capped by a su­per ti­tle game with a record TV au­di­ence has NFL ex­ec­u­tives and fans beam­ing.

The smiles might soon dis­ap­pear.

Pro foot­ball is headed into the great un­known. Bar­ring a quick — and to­tally un­ex­pected — agree­ment with the play­ers’ union on a new con­tract, 2010 will have no salary cap. Af­ter that, per­haps a work stop­page, some­thing NFL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor DeMau­rice Smith puts at “14” on a scale of 1 to 10.

Com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell doesn’t agree, be­liev­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions will lead to a new deal be­fore March 2011, when the col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment ex­pires. But an ac­cord be­fore the New Orleans Saints — who dat? — be­gin de­fence of their Su­per Bowl cham­pi­onship in Septem­ber is un­likely.

The 32 team own­ers clearly are pre­pared for a go at the first un­capped sea­son since 1993. Enough re­stric­tions are in place, in­clud­ing ex­tend­ing the min­i­mum years of ser­vice for un­re­stricted free agency from four years to six, that base­ball-like bid­ding wars are im­prob­a­ble.

With the own­ers claim­ing they are los­ing mil­lions and the play­ers ar­gu­ing that teams are mak­ing money by the fist­ful, a com­mon ground will be dif­fi­cult to find.

“The labour agree­ment is a very im­por­tant agree­ment,” Good­ell said dur­ing his an­nual Su­per Bowl week news con­fer­ence. “It’s some­thing that is im­por­tant to our play­ers. It’s cer­tainly im­por­tant to our clubs, and it’s im­por­tant to our fans.

“We have to sit at the ta­ble and we have to get an agree­ment that works for ev­ery­body. And that’s what peo­ple ex­pect. They want so­lu­tions, and that’s what we should de­liver.”

Free agency be­gins March 5. The more crit­i­cal date might be March 5 of next year, when, if no new deal has been struck, the most pop­u­lar and pros­per­ous sport in Amer­ica could see the own­ers lock­ing out the play­ers.

That’s the last thing fans want to hear af­ter a spe­cial sea­son fea­tur­ing the Saints cap­ping a foot­ball re­nais­sance for their team and their city with their first Su­per Bowl ti­tle. The NFL’s best teams, led by New Orleans, gen­er­ally have be­come the most po­tent on of­fence: each divi­sion win­ner ex­cept Cincin­nati reg­u­larly vis­ited the end zone, and three of the four play­off semi­fi­nal­ists scored at least 416 points.

And as some stars be­gin to fade (LaDainian Tom­lin­son, Champ Bai­ley), oth­ers emerge (Chris John­son, Dar­relle Re­vis). A league driven by quar­ter­backs has a splen­did blend of vet­er­ans in top form ( four-time MVP Pey­ton Man­ning, Su­per Bowl most valu­able player Drew Brees, even 40-year-old Brett Favre), passers only now in their primes (Philip Rivers, Ben Roeth­lis­berger, Aaron Rodgers), and youngsters with great prom­ise (Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Chad Henne).

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