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Officially, the annual league meetings adjourned here without Tagliabue having settled on the committee that will lead the search for his replacement. Tagliabue said Wednesday the committee and its composition might not be announced until next week. But there were rumblings from some key owners Wednesday that the committee has, indeed, been formed, and could be announced by Friday afternoon. The makeup of the committee, not surprisingly, has been much debated. And, coming on the heels of the recently concluded labor negotiations, there is some bilious carryover from that process. Some of the same elements that slowed the extension to the collective bargaining agreement, especially the intramural battle between the NFL's high- and low-revenue franchises, are yet festering. There are a lot of disparate groups seeking representation on the committee, because they want their causes championed in the process that will ultimately conclude with a new commissioner. Tagliabue denied on Wednesday that the residual undercurrent of unrest will enter into the process, but some of the owners weren't so sure. "There's still some infighting," said one high-ranking official from a low-revenue franchise. "Everyone sees the [search] committee as their chance to have a voice in the future. It's a chance to have their interests advanced, to have a sense of advocacy, so the makeup of that committee is going to be key." Certainly, Tagliabue comprehends the sensitive nature of the committee's composition, a group that he said Wednesday will be made up of 6-8 owners. But no matter how diligent Tagliabue is in formulating a search committee that he feels addresses everyone's agendas, there is no guarantee of success. And no guarantee his exit strategy will follow his blueprint. Among the items addressed by the commissioner in closing the meetings on Wednesday afternoon was the likelihood that the NFL will play a game in China, probably in Beijing, in 2007, as part of the run-up to the 2008 Olympics in the country. Scheduling such a game might be the closest Tagliabue gets to Shanghai if the search for his successor takes as long as some owners think it will. Said Irsay: "I know it's not Paul's preference, but it could be a long good-bye."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.