WASHINGTON (May 24, 2005) -- NFL owners eliminated the horse-collar tackle, then maintained the suspense for at least one more day regarding the sale of the Minnesota Vikings and the selection of a site for the 2009 Super Bowl.
Beyond those formalities, the first day of a two-day owners' meeting put on full display stark differences among the teams over revenue sharing, which need to be resolved before a new collective bargaining agreement is reached with the players' union. Somewhat related was New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson's confirmation that he has been offered more than $1 billion for his team, an offer he didn't accept but used to illustrate the financial problems that might prompt him to move the franchise elsewhere -- perhaps to Los Angeles.
"What would it take to keep it in New Orleans?" Benson said. "We need to work out a reasonable situation."
The owners' only definitive action was the 27-5 vote to ban the horse-collar tackle, in which a defender grabs the back inside of an opponent's shoulder pads and yanks the player down. Dallas safety Roy Williams does the tackle as well as anybody, but he seriously injured All-Pro receiver Terrell Owens of Philadelphia with the maneuver last season.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones voted against the change, saying he was concerned about ambiguities in the new rule. A 15-yard penalty will be called only if the tackle immediately brings the ball carrier down, and only if he's in open field.
"I'd rather it had been a fine and it not gotten to the penalty phase," Jones said.
The proposed $600 million sale of the Vikings to New Jersey real estate developer Zygmunt Wilf was discussed by the league's finance committee and could be approved by the owners May 25, although some details in the agreement between Wilf and current owner Red McCombs are holding up the process.
"From what we can see right now, just logistical issues," said Benson, who heads the finance committee. "It's just a matter of getting the paperwork done."
Wilf was expected to arrive in Washington on the evening of May 24. If the sale isn't approved May 25, it could be done by electronic vote by the owners at a later date.
"I don't see any roadblocks," Benson said.
Also on the agenda for May 25 is the selection of a 2009 Super Bowl site. Atlanta, Houston, Miami, and Tampa, Fla., are the contenders, although Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams said he considered the vote to be a two-city race between Atlanta and Houston.
"It's going to be a close call," he said.
Benson spoke at length with reporters about the Saints' problems. Benson's lawyer recently said that Benson is interested in moving the team to San Antonio, Albuquerque, N.M., or Los Angeles.
Benson brushed aside those comments by saying "lawyers sometimes talk too much," but he lamented that the team has sold only 25,000 season tickets and that talks with the state of Louisiana concerning a new stadium or the renovation of the Superdome have made little progress.
"New Orleans is not going to be Los Angeles. It's not going to be Houston," Benson said. "But 30 years ago, we built the Superdome. It was outstanding, the pride of the country. Today it's not. We've got a lot of problems there."
Benson would not say what "reasonable situation" would be needed for him to stay in New Orleans, nor would he discuss details of the $1 billion offer he received.
"I'm not going to sell the club. ... I'm not going to do anything until after the Super Bowl. I don't care if they offer me $6 billion," he said.
The NFL has been considering how it can return to Los Angeles, which has been without a team since 1995. The owners are expected to discuss possible stadium sites -- the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and a parking lot next to Angel Stadium in Anaheim -- on May 25. Yet to be determined is whether Los Angeles will get an expansion team or a relocated team.
As for revenue sharing, Benson said the owners were "making some headway" to resolve their differences, but those differences were still very apparent. Many small-markets teams, including Benson's, would like a league-wide split of profits from stadium-related income such as luxury suites, but most big-market owners feel they should be able to keep that income for themselves. The split has to be resolved before negotiations can begin in earnest with the players' union for a new labor agreement. The current deal expires in 2008, but it includes a 2007 season without a salary cap, something both sides want to avoid.
The small-market view? "I feel that's very important for all teams in the league that those issues be resolved. You can't have a solution that's good for 16 teams or nine teams or 22 teams," Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt said.
The large-market view? "The way we're structured has brought us to a pretty good point right now," Cowboys owner Jones said.
The league's finance committee also asked Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer to explain Manchester United's relationship with a Las Vegas casino. Glazer recently succeeded in a $1.47 billion takeover of the soccer club, which is involved in a proposed venture with Las Vegas Sands Corp. that would build a resort and casino near United's Old Trafford stadium.
League spokesman Greg Aiello said Glazer's acquisition did not violate the NFL's cross-ownership rules and that there was no problem related to the debt Glazer is incurring.
"The only issue is related to our policy of ownership interest in gambling casinos," Aiello said.
Aiello said there is no timetable for Glazer to respond to the NFL's request.