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No progress, but talks might resume March 5

From Wire Reports

Talks between the NFL and its players union broke off with no progress, and while the league said the sides would meet again March 5, the union said it wasn't sure.

The stalemate increased the possibility that many high-priced free agents would become available on the market as teams struggled to get under the salary cap by 6 p.m. ET on March 5. Free agency would begin six hours later.

"No progress has been made, but we expect more discussions to take place before Sunday night," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

The league had no further comment.

Troy Vincent of the Buffalo Bills, the president of the NFL Players Association, concurred that there had been little movement. And Gene Upshaw, the union's executive director, flew home to Washington and said he was unaware of any meeting scheduled for March 5, the day of the deadline for free agency.

"I guess we can meet if they want to," Upshaw said after arriving home. "All I know is that they got up and said they had to have a conference and that the meeting was ended."

Earlier in the week, negotiations broke off and the league set the salary cap for free agency at $94.5 million. Teams with a salary load far higher than that had anticipated an agreement that could have given them extra room to keep veterans, perhaps $5 million to $10 million more with a new deal.

If not, it's likely several teams would have to make wholesale cuts, some involving big-name veterans such as Kansas City's Will Shields, Tampa Bay's Derrick Brooks and the New York Jets' Kevin Mawae and Chad Pennington. Upshaw contended that most of those players would have been cut anyway and said the deal on the table would actually provide less than players currently get because the league wants to abolish a policy called "cash over cap," a complicated formula in which teams can spend more on bonuses and other items as long as it is under the cap at the start of free agency each year.

Upshaw has said the NFL was offering 56.2 percent of its total revenues to the players. He also has said he will not go under 60 percent. Vincent said he had been told the league had increased its percentage offer.

But the problem involves more than that, notably a dispute among owners over revenue sharing. Low-revenue teams complain they would have to contribute a higher percentage of the money they get from advertising, naming rights and other non-television and ticket revenue than big-market teams.

"I don't know how we can do a deal without revenue sharing," Vincent said.

Upshaw has always wanted that issue decided first among the owners, but that isn't likely to happen in these last-minute talks, which began March 3 after the start of free agency was extended three days from March 3 at 12:01 a.m. ET until March 6 at the same time.

The labor agreement, extended several times since it was agreed to in 1992, has another two years to run. But 2006 would be the last year with a salary cap.

There would be no cap next year, but also many changes in the rules, including some the players find unappealing -- six years for a player to get to free agency instead of four and no minimum amount that teams have to spend.

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