Combine notebook: The widening salary gap

Combine notebook: The widening salary gap
By Charles Robinson, Yahoo Sports
February 24, 2006

Charles Robinson
Yahoo Sports
More combine – Counting the second-tier quarterbacks

INDIANAPOLIS – Not long ago, Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen quipped that if a new collective bargaining agreement couldn't be reached in the NFL, everyone involved in the negotiations should be shot.

It's officially time to start collecting ammunition.

Despite going into the league's annual scouting combine hoping for the best, the demeanor of every party involved has grown dark. The most ominous sign of all came Friday, when the director of the NFL Players Association invited reporters into the annual combine agent's meeting – then told the agents to prepare for the termination of the salary cap in 2007. Gene Upshaw said the NFLPA wouldn't allow free agency to be pushed back for additional bargaining time, and said that he expects the union's March 3 deadline will pass without a new deal.

The No. 1 problem hasn't changed: the league's owners can't agree on a revenue sharing plan amongst themselves – nor do they appear ready to meet the union's demand that 60-plus percent of total football revenues be earmarked for players. Boiled down, the NFLPA is looking for another $200-$300 million a year in league-wide cap space. That translates to slightly less than $10 million per year in additional cap space for each team.

There are other pressing issues, but the total revenue remains the No. 1 hurdle.

Every team is preparing for free agency with two contingencies in mind – "I imagine everyone has a Plan A and Plan B," Cleveland general manager Phil Savage said. But the real issues are that nobody seems to know what's going to happen without an extension. Contracts will have to be prorated over shorter periods of time, some salary cap situations will push perilously into the red (Kansas City, for example, is staring at a $25 million cap deficit for 2006), and there's no telling what the uncapped year will bring.

For now, Upshaw has left Indianapolis and returned to Washington, D.C., and there are no new negotiations scheduled. Doomsday is seven days away and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.

COMBINE CHATTER

  • As if Michael Vick didn't have enough issues when it came to his quarterbacking style, his brother Marcus inadvertently criticized his penchant for running on Friday. While the younger Vick called his brother "a much better player (and) a way better person," he said his brother also plays a "wild" brand of football.

    "I feel like I'm a more mature passer," Marcus Vick said. "I tend to go to my third and fourth progression before taking off and running with it. He kind of plays a wild style of football, where he's going to get nagging injuries all through the year. You don't need that as a quarterback. … I tell him (to stay in the pocket). Then one time, after he hurt his knee, he called me and was like, 'See? That's what you get when you stay in the pocket.' I can't argue with that."

  • The San Francisco 49ers winning the coin toss and 6th overall pick in the draft is more significant than just a one spot bump. The feeling among some personnel people is that once the combine has subsided, the first round will settle into three talent tiers.

    The first tier is the "Super Seven" – USC running back Reggie Bush and quarterback Matt Leinart, Texas quarterback Vince Young, Virginia offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, N.C. State defensive end Mario Williams, Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk, and Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler. Then there is expected to be a lower talent plateau to choose from between picks 8 through 18, and another slight drop from 19 through 32.

    While San Francisco was already in the Super Seven before the coin toss, the prevailing feeling is that the 49ers and Oakland Raiders are aiming for the same player – Hawk. But if San Francisco had lost the toss and ended up at No. 7, it was widely believed the 49ers were a candidate to trade back from that spot on draft day if Hawk was off the board. Now that the 49ers have the 6th pick, it looks like they may not have to move at all. In turn, Oakland is likely to stay put, depriving another team of the chance to trade up for whoever falls to seven.

  • Somebody at the Senior Bowl did a crummy job with the measuring tape. Not only did Ferguson measure a half inch taller at the combine than he did at the Senior Bowl, but Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams did, too (coming in at 5-9). An eighth of an inch is one thing, but in Williams' case, every half-inch counts.

  • It's always an issue – beaten to death, really – but this weekend's workouts are shaping up as somewhat of a joke. After most of the top prospects went through major drills last season, the big stars are once again blowing them off. And worse yet, so are many of the guys fighting for draft position or to maintain their edge at the top of their position boards.

    Bush, Leinart and Young won't throw. Ferguson declined to lift. Ohio State wide receiver Santonio Holmes won't run, nor will running backs DeAngelo Williams (Memphis), LenDale White (USC) and Laurence Maroney (Minnesota).

    And then there were two big surprises: Despite fighting to get a foothold in the quarterback class, Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst and Bowling Green's Omar Jacobs won't throw.

    It makes you wish they were all like Colorado's Jeremy Bloom, who just got back from the Olympics and has committed to running. Or maybe LSU running back Joseph Addai, who was asked what he was looking forward to at the combine, and replied, "Running the 40. If they want me to, I'll do it today."

  • Though coach Mike McCarthy said he'd like an answer "sooner rather than later," the Packers have set no timetable for Brett Favre's decision about playing in 2006.

    "It's important for he and Deanna to think this through and make the right decision for them," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said. "We've had conversations, he and I and coach (Mike) McCarthy, and I've talked to (agent) Bus (Cook) and they'll make their decision when they make it.

    "Do I anticipate he'll be back? I'm not trying to anticipate anything. I mean, I've had some long, good conversations with both he and Deanna and I don't know. The last time I talked to him, I don't think he's decided. Quite honestly. I don't think he's trying to keep it secret. The last time I talked to him, I got the impression he hadn't decided yet."

  • Interestingly, the Packers wouldn't rule out possibly selecting a quarterback at the No. 5 pick. It might be posturing, but as we reported several months ago, a USC source indicated the Packers scouted and maintained a real interest in Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart this year. And while McCarthy had glowing remarks about last year's No. 1 pick Aaron Rodgers, neither he nor Thompson would rule out dipping into the quarterback pool again.

    "You have to take the best player available when you're picking that high," Thompson said. "I told this to someone the other day: An NBA example of that is the Portland Trail Blazers once upon a time decided that they had to take a big guy, and they were picking No. 2. They took Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan. How does history judge you with a pick like that?"

    Added McCarthy, "This is an outstanding year for quarterbacks, so we'll look at everybody. It will definitely be part of our discussions."

  • The drama with New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress apparently still hasn't sorted itself out. Burress had a locker room incident after New York's playoff loss, when coach Tom Coughlin asked him to join the team huddle and Burress ignored him. Burress then blew off his final meeting with the coaching staff before the offseason.

    "I didn't have a chance to speak with him yet but I will," Coughlin said. "Naturally I was disappointed (he skipped his exit meeting).

    "(His attitude) is something we need to work on. You talk to him about it - you make him understand we're all in this thing together, everybody's trying to do the very best they can. What you saw the last time (the playoff loss to Carolina) was frustration. You didn't see the frustration the week before (in the season finale against Oakland). He's a very, very competitive young man. He wants to be the best. He wants to have the opportunities. Sometimes when it doesn't work out, frustration occurs.

    "But frustration occurs for all of us. You have to realize when that can be aired, and when it shouldn't be aired and so on. Moving forward in his second year (with the Giants) he will be much better at controlling that aspect of himself and understanding there is a time and a place for everything and that sometimes where you see it happening is not the place."

  • The best two quotes of the day:

    USC quarterback Matt Leinart, on the medical condition that had to be corrected with surgeries when he was 1 and 14 years old: "I was born cross-eyed. What are you going to do?"

    Former Colorado receiver and U.S. skiing Olympian Jeremy Bloom on whether he expects to have a "no skiing" clause in his contract: "I think (Kellen) Winslow took care of any of that stuff."

  • Odds and ends: USC running back LenDale White shocked some when he said he played in the national championship game at 253 pounds. He's now down to 238. … The Cincinnati Bengals think Carson Palmer will be ready for the start of the 2006 season. … Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress said he expects Daunte Culpepper will be a Minnesota Viking next year. … Seattle coach Mike Holmgren resigned from his position on the competition committee – but not because of officiating issues in the Super Bowl. … This is the final year of the combine's binding contract to stay in Indianapolis, but Jeff Foster, the executive director of National Scouting, expressed a willingness to continue having the event in the RCA Dome. … Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban voiced support for Ricky Williams and expressed disgust that Williams' latest run-in with the substance program was leaked to the media.

    Charles Robinson is the senior investigative reporter for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Charles a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

    Updated on Saturday, Feb 25, 2006 12:56 am, EST

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