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NFL labor talks hit a dead end

NFL labor talks broke off Tuesday three days before the start of free agency, leaving teams and players in a quandary about negotiating new contracts.

Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, spent the past three days meeting in New York and Washington with commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

"We're deadlocked. There's nowhere to go," Upshaw said. "There's no reason to continue meeting."

The NFL acknowledged the talks had broken off and said no further discussions were scheduled. The league said it would not extend Friday's deadline for the start of free agency.

Although the collective bargaining agreement does not expire until after the 2007 season, this is a critical period in the negotiations to extend the 12-year-old agreement. Talks have been going on for more than a year.

Free agency is scheduled to start Friday. If the deal is not extended, this would be the last year with a salary cap, so agents and team officials want to know how to structure contracts.

For example, if there is no extension, the salary cap is expected to be about $95-million this season, and annual raises after 2006 in a long-term deal would be limited to 30 percent. If the deal is extended, the cap could be $10-million or more higher.

The sides have agreed on a number of issues. The biggest one is the formula for the amount of money to go to the players, changing it from a "designated gross revenues" pool - primarily television and ticket sales - to "total gross revenues," which include almost every bit of money a team generates.

They differ, however, on the percentage of revenues to be allocated to the players - the union is asking for 60 percent and the league's current offer is 56.2 percent.

There also are disputes among groups of owners on that issue. Tagliabue has called a league meeting in New York for Thursday.

Teams with lower revenues - mostly small-market clubs - say that if the contributions to the players' fund are equally apportioned among 32 franchises, they will have to pay a substantially larger proportion of their nontelevision and ticket money because they have less. Owners of high-revenue teams, like Dallas' Jerry Jones, claim spreading the load equally would force some teams to work harder to generate new sources of money.

Another high-revenue owner, New England's Robert Kraft, said the formula does not take stadium debt into account, as he has on Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said "internal revenue-sharing issues" would not be discussed at Thursday's meeting.

The players have an executive board meeting scheduled for next week in Hawaii. Upshaw has said that if there's no labor extension, he will recommend to the players then that they put in motion the process of decertifying the union as a tactic to prevent a lockout by the owners in 2008 and possibly lead to a courtroom confrontation between the sides.

COLTS: The team has sold the naming rights for its new downtown stadium to California-based Lucas Oil Co., which makes automotive lubricants and has several sponsorships in auto racing, according to media reports.

The company will pay the Colts $120-million over 20 years to have the 63,000-seat, retractable-roof facility named Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis television station WISH reported. The team had no immediate comment.

The Colts will continue to play in the RCA Dome, their home since the team moved from Baltimore in 1984, until the new stadium is completed.

JETS: Quarterback Chad Pennington wants to stay with the team and hopes to come to an agreement on a renegotiated contract. On a conference call from Bradenton, where he is rehabbing his injured right shoulder, Pennington said the biggest issue is finding "middle ground."

The Jets want to slash his base pay to make his contract more salary-cap friendly. They also must weigh whether they believe he can come back from two major shoulder operations in an eight-month span and be effective.

TEXANS: Perennial starting safety Marcus Coleman, veteran quarterback Tony Banks and running back Tony Hollings were released.

The team has the No. 1 pick in April's draft and could choose Texas quarterback Vince Young, USC running back and Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, or it could trade the pick.

ELLER CHARGED: NFL Hall of Famer Carl Eller was charged Tuesday with drunken driving, and a prosecutor said the former Minnesota Viking likely faces probation and community service if convicted.

A Minnesota State Patrol trooper clocked Eller, 64, at 97 mph in a 55-mph zone and reported him driving erratically on Interstate 394 in Golden Valley, Minn., early Sunday, the criminal complaint said.

A preliminary Breathalyzer test indicated Eller's blood alcohol level was 0.117 percent, well above the 0.08 percent at which the state presumes impairment.

Eller was released after posting $500 bail.

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