PALM BEACH, Fla. NFL owners are ready to give commissioner Paul Tagliabue a new contract and keep instant replay.
The questions are how long Tagliabue's term will last and if replay will be made permanent.
Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney, who heads the committee that oversees league operations, said Monday the 32 owners agreed unanimously to extend Tagliabue's contract, which expires in May 2005. Rooney said the extension could be as long as three years, depending on the wishes of the 63-year-old commissioner.
The extension of replay, meanwhile, was presented to the owners in three possible forms:
A renewal of the current coaches' challenge rule for five years.
Permanent renewal with the current system.
Permanent renewal with an additional challenge given to a team that makes two successful challenges.
The vote on replay is likely to come Tuesday or Wednesday.
Owners also discussed some touchy financial issues, including what several considered a widening gap between haves and have-nots that could hurt the on-field parity that has characterized the past decade.
''With our stadium and ticket pricing and market, we are 32nd out of 32,'' said Indianapolis owner Jimmy Irsay, who went into his own pocket to pay a record $34.5 million signing bonus to quarterback Peyton Manning, last season's co-MVP.
''There has to be some way to create a shift there, and it's THE issue in the NFL right now, revenue sharing.''
Owners such as Irsay, Rooney and Buffalo's Ralph Wilson, among others, are concerned about the disparity in cash flow between their teams and teams such as Washington.
Redskins owner Daniel Snyder paid out nearly $50 million in signing bonuses in the first two days of free agency this year. Even with a salary cap, some owners believe it's difficult for teams with less cash to match that, even though Snyder's spending has failed to improve his team in the five years he's owned it.
Tagliabue predicted Monday the owners would renew the NFL Trust, a method by which teams share revenues from the sale of licensed merchandise. But that amounts to only about $4 million per team a year the cost of a decent cornerback and Snyder and Dallas' Jerry Jones want to continue discussions that would allow them to market their own products without cutting in others.
That concerns small market owners, as well as some of those in bigger markets, such as New England's Robert Kraft and the New York Giants' Wellington Mara.
''I can't see why we're talking about selling a few more bobblehead dolls in Buffalo,'' Wilson said. ''And I wonder how many Cowboy hats Jerry is going to sell there. There's a far more fundamental issue: The money disparity that will end up making it a league of haves and have-nots.''
Tagliabue, who took over in 1989 following the retirement of Pete Rozelle, has seen the NFL through a series of franchise shifts and the institution of free agency and the salary cap.
Rooney noted Tagliabue's needed to provide continuity through new labor and television agreements. The TV contract expires after the 2005 season.
''He's taken the league to a new level,'' Rooney said. ''The television situation is phenomenal, the relationship with the players union is great. We're entering an important period and we want him to continue to lead us through it. It's obvious what we think of him.''
It's believed he will make somewhere in the area of $8 million a year.
Meanwhile, there will be no expansion of the playoffs from the current 12 teams. Kansas City withdrew its proposal to expand the postseason to 14 teams, making it officially dead.
Changing the overtime rule remains on the table, but is unlikely to be approved. There is some sentiment to give both teams a possession in the extra session instead of sticking with the sudden-death rule, but that support has diminished. Last season, teams getting the ball first won 23 percent of the overtime games, down from 36 percent in 2002.
The competition committee, headed by Atlanta general manager Rich McKay and Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, also recommended instituting 15-yard penalties for choreographed celebrations. And it suggested some minor changes to the fair catch rule.
Irsay's Colts and Kraft's Patriots will open the 2004 season on Thursday night, Sept. 9 in Foxboro, Mass. The game is a rematch of the AFC championship won 24-14 by New England last January.
The other prime-time games for the first weekend will be Kansas City at Denver on Sunday night, Sept. 12, and Green Bay at Carolina on Monday night, Sept. 13.
Dallas will play at Minnesota in a national television game on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 12. No other matchups were announced Monday.
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