Bottom line might not be bottom line in NFL talks

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With five more days and nights — at least — to reach an agreement, the NFL and the players' union might find money off the top is not the bottom line.

The owners' request that about $2 billion of total revenues be deducted before they split the rest with the players has been a sticking point ever since 2008. That's when the owners opted out of the current collective bargaining agreement, which would have expired last Thursday if not for two extensions.

The deadline now is at the end of Friday, and a compromise on that figure — the owners already deduct about $1 billion for operating expenses from the $9 billion overall take — might be easier than reaching accord on expanding the regular season to 18 games or several other issues.

"We have made player safety our biggest concern, and we won't back off on that," said Tennessee Titans guard and player representative Jake Scott.

"There are so many moving parts, so much that goes on," added Saints tackle Jon Stinchcomb, also a player rep. "When you have these CBA negotiations, what we establish now will affect how we do business for years to come. It's more than just how to slash the pie. It's how you go to work, what your offseason will look like, benefits for former players, how protected are we when injuries come along. There are so many aspects being negotiated, it takes time to come to an agreement on all these different fronts."


One front that could have wiggle room is the owners seeking the additional $1 billion, which they say is essential for league and team operations because of the heavy debt many franchises have for stadium construction loans. Such numbers often are negotiable. Although the players aren't eager to take any sort of paycut, they might be amenable to a substantially reduced giveback that serves the owners well enough.

The rookie wage scale being proposed also shouldn't be too contentious as long as the owners plan to divert much of the money they save toward the veteran players and not their own pockets. All those players who wince when they see an untested rookie getting more guaranteed money than they've earned in their entire careers are firmly behind such a redistribution of those dollars.

Most dicey, as Scott suggests, is anything dealing with player safety and health benefits for current and retired players. That's where the proposed 18 regular-season games and two preseason games figure in.

The union is adamant, with so many injuries in a 16-game schedule — particularly brain trauma and major injuries that can have long-term effects — increasing the length of the regular season is not an option. The owners are just as adamant that the extra revenue 18 games would bring from league media partners and sponsors is necessary to keep the assets growing.

Commissioner Roger Goodell insists the preseason matches don't feature the quality fans deserve, so switching two of them for games that count is preferable.

For the players to agree on 18 games, they would want substantial reductions in offseason workouts, minicamps, and training camp. Should they get that, and if NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith can coax, say, five extra roster spots per team (160 more jobs), perhaps the league and union can find common ground in this area, too.

"To me, I feel like we were so far apart," Vikings defensive end Brian Robison said. "But they're trying to keep it out of the courts, which tells me that we're starting to agree on some things. I'm not saying that deal is going to be done real soon, but it's good to see that the guys on both sides are staying in the meeting room and making some progress toward our common goal, which is getting football back on the field when it's supposed to be there."



AP Pro Football Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington, and AP Sports Writers Brett Martel in New Orleans and Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this story.

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