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Progress being made

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Scotty from Wassau, WI:
Would it be better to have a better than average player at each position and sacrifice the quality of your depth, or have good depth and a few studs sprinkled throughout?

Vic: Depth is good. If you've decided to load up with stars and sacrifice depth, then you better make sure nobody gets hurt, have a punter who can kick it real high or place it along the sideline, and a kicker who can knock it through the back of the end zone. I don't think you have to sacrifice quality in your starting lineup to have quality depth. I think you have to avoid those one or two outrageous contracts that hold you hostage.

Candy from Palatka, FL:
Please explain why teams such as the Steelers, Vikings and Packers from small markets were able to be so successful prior to the salary cap? Could football be somehow inherently different from baseball, preventing Yankee/Red Sox big-market dominance from occurring?

Vic: Small-market teams in the modern era have always been able to compete on a level playing field with large-market teams because the NFL has always pooled revenue. It was all part of Pete Rozelle's "leaguethink" philosophy. TV money, for example, was divided evenly among all of the teams, even though Green Bay offered several million fewer viewers than New York. The salary cap was an invention of the 1990's to help distribute money among the players and curb reckless salary escalation, especially as it pertained to rookies. The salary cap absolutely helped small-market teams remain competitive against large-market teams, but revenue-sharing was always the most important factor in leveling the playing field. Baseball has never been a pool-the-revenue sport.

Courtney from Jacksonville:
I know you are a proponent for drafting value, but as far as the Jags' needs, what positions are deep enough for them to wait until the second and maybe the third rounds to address?

Vic: The Jaguars are deepest on the defensive line and at quarterback.

Van from Atlantic Beach, FL:
What do you think the chances are of Scott Starks developing into the answer at right cornerback?

Vic: It's possible. He was drafted for that purpose.

Paul from Lehigh Valley, PA:
Can you give us your thoughts on Reggie Wayne's contract? Is it structured well or will it continue the demise of the Colts? Also, how were they able to give him a six-year deal with the CBA up in the air?

Vic: You can sign a player to a contract that includes as many years as you want, but if that contract was signed prior to a new CBA agreement, the bonus money can't be amortized beyond 2009. Reggie Wayne received a $12.5 million signing bonus. The deal is worth about $40 million total and includes a $2.6 million salary this year that makes Wayne a $5.725 million cap hit this year. There's nothing wrong with the deal. He's a young, ascending player who appears to be in the prime years of his career. Signing him will especially make sense if the league gets a new CBA, which will then allow the Colts to re-structure contracts, push money into the future and keep their team together for another run at the big one. How were they able to sign Wayne without a new CBA in place? Obviously, they planned to cut players to make room. Now they may not have to do that.

Ryan from Jacksonville:
Word is a deal between the NFL and the NFL Players Association on an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement is done and that the only thing keeping the thing from being signed and sealed is the absence of a firm arrangement among owners regarding an expansion of revenue-sharing. Is this true and, if so, how close are the owners to agreeing on a revenue-sharing plan?

Vic: I read comments made yesterday by Dallas owner Jerry Jones that said he expects a CBA extension to be announced in a few days. The story made no mention of revenue-sharing but I immediately knew Jones had to believe progress was being made on a revenue-sharing agreement or he wouldn't have made those comments. I started poking around and found someone on another team who confirmed that progress has been made by the owners on a revenue-sharing plan. That's great news because that's what it's going to take to secure the future of professional football in small-market towns such as Jacksonville. A revenue-sharing agreement is what it's going to take to achieve lasting labor peace and a continuation of the best system of operation in professional sports, which is to say the continuation of a system that provides the most level playing field in all of sports. The owners have been closed-mouthed about revenue-sharing negotiations ever since the commissioner issued a gag order last summer. I can tell you, however, that as of two weeks ago there had been absolutely no progress in those negotiations and there was genuine fear the divide between the small-market and large-market owners was unbridgeable. Late last week, of course, Gene Upshaw painted a very bleak picture. Maybe that's what kick-started progress. I have to believe that if it's true progress has been made toward a revenue-sharing agreement, then the greatest strides were probably made most recently. As I have said all along, a CBA extension logically has to be tied to a revenue-sharing plan. I can't imagine the players union would agree to an extension without a revenue-sharing plan, and I can't imagine the league's small-market owners, who are the majority, would ratify an extension that undoubtedly will include a TFR (Total Football Revenue) model without a strategy for sharing local revenue. Look at this way: If you were a small-market owner, why would you agree to share the costs without sharing the revenue? That's what you would do if you didn't get a cut of the large-market teams' local revenue. That burgeoning local revenue, of course, is driving the salary cap upward, which means the large-market teams are passing on their player costs to small-market teams that can't produce the same revenue to pay for those increased costs. Local revenue is substantial enough that inclusion in the salary cap will drive the cap well north of $100 million. There's nothing more we can do at this point but to wait for word of an agreement. I'm hoping for an announcement this week of a CBA extension, a revenue-sharing plan and a moving of the start of the league year from March 3 to March 10 or March 17, which would provide teams such as the Redskins time to re-structure contracts, get under the cap and keep their rosters intact. Let's hope that happens.

Sean from Jacksonville:
Can you explain the revenue-sharing plan a little more in depth? You say the salary cap is the total revenue each market makes added up, then divided by 32, right? So are they disputing how much each market should get out of that total revenue?

Vic: Let's start over. With the advent of the salary cap in 1993, the league and the players union agreed to a system of designated gross revenue (DGR). That would be the money that would determine the salary cap. Local revenue was a minor item back then and it was not included in the DGR. Thirteen years later, local revenue has grown considerably. It now represents 20 percent of all revenue and the players want it to be included in the model. The players now want a TFR model, which is an understandable request. What that would do, for example, is negate the possibility of teams lowering ticket prices and hiking parking prices for the purpose of moving money out of the DGR category, since ticket revenue is in DGR and parking revenue isn't. Radio rights, preseason TV rights, merchandising, signage, etc., are also included in local revenue and large-market teams have much greater local revenue potential than small-market teams. That's not a problem. The problem is that if you're going to a TFR model, then local revenue is going to drive each team's cap up and that means small-market teams are going to share large-market teams' costs. So, isn't it logical that if you're going to share their costs you should want to share their revenue? If a CBA extension includes a TFR model, and I have to believe it would, then I would expect a revenue-sharing plan to include all revenue streams. The remaining question would be at what percentage? Local revenue won't be shared equally. Small-market teams are looking for a percentage of the local revenue pool. If they get that, it will set a precedent and a starting point for future negotiations. Do you remember the Jacksonville-Pittsburgh plan about which I wrote last June? That's what it was, a percentage of the local revenue pool.

Dave from London, Ontario:
Why is it that higher-end prospects don't work out at the combine?

Vic: Because they have nothing to gain, only lose.

Tom from Custer, WA:
Are the Jags better off if there is a CBA extension or not and why?

Vic: All teams need labor peace because it will provide for the future security of professional football. I don't care what a team's salary cap situation is, without a CBA extension and a revenue-sharing strategy you'd have to be hesitant to sign anybody of any note in free agency because of the uncertainty of the game's future.

Nick from Jacksonville:
You mentioned in your 2/17 column the possibility "the Titans won't even turn the contract into the league for awhile." Can you explain this more? Can a team wait until the beginning of the league calendar year to turn in a contract, regardless of when it's signed?

Vic: You're supposed to turn in contracts in a timely manner but the league won't complain as long as you have it to them by the start of the league year. Nothing counts anyhow until the first day of the league year, which is currently scheduled to be Friday, March 3. At that point, you have to be under the cap. In Kyle Vanden Bosch's case, he was scheduled to become a free agent on March 3, so the contract absolutely had to be in the league's possession by that date. By the way, his contract was turned into the league on Feb. 17, which was the day he signed it.

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