NEW YORK -- NFL owners could opt out of their agreement with the players union next week, leaving open the possibility of a 2010 season without a salary cap.
The labor agreement, according to published reports, is on the agenda for the league meetings in Atlanta on Tuesday.
"If they don't do it next week then it will be soon after that," Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said Friday. "They want to opt out and we don't."
In the agreement signed in March of 2006, both sides were given the right to get out of the deal by Nov. 8, 2008. League officials noted that doesn't mean a decision could not be made earlier.
That contract was due to expire at the end of the 2013 season. If the owners nullify it, a move that has seemed inevitable for a while, it would end after the 2011 season with 2010 being uncapped.
The end of the agreement does not necessarily mean there will be a work stoppage, although Upshaw has predicted that the owners could lock out the players in 2011. But the early opt-out also could lead to earlier talks on a new deal, which the owners feel has leaned too far toward the players -- Upshaw already has had several preliminary meetings, including one recently with Jerry Richardson of Carolina and Pat Bowlen of Denver, two of the owners expected to be involved in the negotiations.
And despite predictions that owners with more cash would corner the market on star players in an uncapped year, there are safeguards against that, notably a provision in the contract, first signed in 1993, that extends the period needed from free agency from four years to six if that happens.
The early termination of the labor contract has been expected for at least the last six months.
Several owners have complained that the current deal, which gives 60 percent of the revenues to the players, has been too one-sided. It was done at the last moment and was the last major act of former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who managed to put together a coalition of high-revenue, middle-revenue and low-revenue teams to ratify the contract.
Only two low revenue teams, Cincinnati and Buffalo, voted against it.
Since then, however, high-revenue owners, such as New England's Robert Kraft, have also supported negotiating for a new deal. And if a vote is taken, 24 of the 32 teams would have to vote to extend it, something that is highly unlikely to happen.
One problem, league officials note, are rising and unpredictable bond rates, which leave teams like Dallas and the New York Giants and Jets, who are building new stadiums, with rising costs and rising debt on their bonds. The Cowboys' Stadium is scheduled to open next season and host the 2011 Super Bowl and the new facility for the New York teams is scheduled to open in 2010.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press