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Monday, June 27, 2011
Pressure for labor deal grows

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

Michael Palmer
Preseason games may not be especially popular with fans, but they are money-makers for NFL owners. Reaching a deal soon would preserve the exhibition season.

Although everyone has good vibes about the way talks are going between owners and players, this week is the most vital to start getting a deal done.

Talks without a deal can't go too much past July 4. The pressure is already obvious. The Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets ran out of time to plan training camps away from their headquarters, a blow to Ravens and Jets fans. The St. Louis Rams will probably be the next team to decide to stay at home.

The good news is that both sides can see what it takes to get a deal. Players must be able to sell 48 percent of all revenue in order to get the support of the former union. Owners need some flexibility in the middle of the CBA when they need cost credits for new stadiums. For those circumstances, players could lower their take to 46.5 percent.

The rookie wage scale remains an issue. It's not insurmountable, though. Although both sides are willing to slash the guarantees given to first-round picks by 50 percent, owners want five-year contracts and players want four years. With owners willing to go four-years-and-an option for picks 17 through 32, one slight adjustment could settle that debate.

Timing is everything. Owners have a lot to lose if the preseason slips away. The exhibition season is worth around $700 million to owners, money that goes almost directly to the franchise. Players make less than $2,000 a week. Owners share all the ticket sales money. Losing the preseason would cut revenue by $22 million a team. It's safe to say that this is an important week.

From the inbox

Q: What would the Colts have to do get another Super Bowl before big stars retire in a few years? This year would be great because it would be home field. Why are they not addressing most the important issue on offense? Coach Jim Caldwell making two bad calls in the last two postseasons, which cost them both games?

Chris in Huntsville, Ala.

A:
Because of Peyton Manning, the Colts still have a five-year window to win Super Bowl rings. They addressed the offensive line this year in the draft. They added a short-yardage, goal-line runner, which should help. They need to tighten up things on defense and do better with the running game. If they do, they will stay Super Bowl contenders for years.

Q: With all the sources supplying information on the points of the talks, I haven't heard any details on the length of the deal. Have you heard what the term of this new CBA will be, or at least what the projection will be? Are we going to have something like this lockout again in five years?

Will in New Orleans

A:
A source told me Tuesday that the players -- if they like the deal -- would be willing to do a 10-year labor agreement. I had heard there was some possibility of doing a five-year deal that could kick into another five, but if both sides come together with an agreement, both are willing to go long term. One of the keys for the owners is to get this out of the Minneapolis court system. Owners believe federal judge David Doty has decided against them too often since they settled the Reggie White case in 1993. The owners make a fair point in saying they would want to deal with a labor union that doesn't have court oversight. Players want to make sure they get a fair deal. I think this is going to end up being a long-term deal that handles stadium costs and maintains labor peace.

Q: How come whenever someone writes or talks about the free-agent WRs, they bring up only Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Plaxico Burress? Why doesn't anyone bring up Mike Sims-Walker? I would think he would be ranked higher since he's got a similar body type as those three, has 4.35 speed and he's only 27.

Steven H in New Jersey

A:
Your point is a good one. There are a lot of good free-agent receivers who aren't getting a lot of attention. Sims-Walker will probably end up with a contract that exceeds his résumé in Jacksonville. Malcolm Floyd should get good money. The big names -- even if they are older -- get most of the attention. Sims-Walker will probably get more money than those three veteran receivers because he's young and has potential. Decisions like those will make July fascinating.

Q: My Bucs are in serious need of DB help, with Ronde Barber being as old as he is and Aqib Talib's off-field issues. So my question is, is there any chance of landing Nnamdi Asomugha when free agency begins? It'd be a great fit with a team on the rise. Asomugha on one side forcing the throws to Talib, with his ball-hawking skills, on the other is a killer duo.

Justin in Arkansas

A:
I don't see the Bucs putting up the bucks to make that work. The fit would be perfect, but the cost doesn't fit their current model of doing business. The Bucs are trying to win with a young team and a low payroll. It's not as though they are trying to be cheap, but they found success with Josh Freeman and a young team. Though I love what the Bucs are doing with their roster, I'm not sold that they are one player away from winning a Super Bowl. If they were, I'd say go for it. They still have to catch up to Atlanta and New Orleans for that to happen.

Q: Without a football season, some players might be more inclined to have a few off-field issues. What is the craziest off-field issue you have ever reported? What about the player who tried to shoot down a helicopter?

Britton in Nashville, Tenn.

A:
Ah, Britton, you're bringing back some memories. I remember covering and writing about former Steeler Ernie Holmes' wild ride down the Pennsylvania Turnpike in which he was chased by police and a helicopter. He ended up shooting at a helicopter. I remember having to write a story about a player who was allegedly arrested for a drug offense in New Jersey. The player's agent got in touch with me to tell me it was a case of mistaken identity and that it couldn't have happened. Why? The player was in drug rehab. Lots of memories through the years.

Q: With the bulk of the Browns' divisional games being played at the end of the season (5 of the last 6) and them playing an easy schedule, do you think that will help or hurt their chances of being a contender for a playoff spot?

Mike in Macedonia, Ohio

A:
I think it will help, but I don't think you want to consider the Browns a legitimate playoff contender yet. There is too much work to do with personnel. But I do think the schedule gives them a chance to be near .500 as they head into the final six weeks of the season. They open against Cincinnati at home, which gives them a chance to win. They play four games against the NFC West. No NFC West team is all that much better than the Browns. They hit four games against the AFC South, and Jacksonville and Tennessee are a little more vulnerable because they are teams in transition. The key to the season obviously is whether Colt McCoy is the real deal or not.

Q: I'm one of the fans thinking that the Panthers would have been smarter to take Marcell Dareus with their first pick. Now that the draft dust has settled, what do you think?

Bruce in Charlotte, N.C.

A:
Dareus could end up being a better player than Cam Newton, but you win in this game with quarterbacks. I'm still in Newton's corner because I think he will develop into a good quarterback. Look at last year. Ndamukong Suh had as good of a rookie season as any defensive tackle in NFL history. The Lions won six games. Sam Bradford went ahead of Suh to the Rams and won seven games. If the ratings are close, always take the quarterback in this league.

Q: While I'm somewhat sure that he'll re-sign with Cincinnati, are there any teams that you think might come out of nowhere to sign RB Cedric Benson? And if Benson fails to return to Cincinnati, do you think this could sway Mike Brown to trade Carson Palmer for some draft picks and a RB?

Tim in Cincinnati

A:
It's possible the Dolphins could come in and try to grab Benson, but I think he'll end up in Cincinnati. The Bengals need him because they want to be a 50-50 running/passing team. I think he likes it there. As for Palmer, forget about it. He's taking the year off, and Mike Brown isn't trading him.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.