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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Why NFL Labor War Means Eagles Better Act Fast
Yesterday, players union chief Gene Upshaw issued some warnings to owners and agents. Without a new collective bargaining agreement, he said, 2006 won't have a salary much more than $92 million, and 2007 won't have one at all. At first blush, this sounds like good news for the Birds. Cap-strapped teams like Washington have to let players go to squeeze under the ceiling by an end-of-the-week deadline, which Upshaw vows won't be extended. That means (a) more free agents for the Birds to sign, and (b) as a team with lots of salary cap room, a big edge in money to do that signing with.

But here's how things could backfire. First, if 2007 will have much more payroll room, that could mean smart teams could sidestep the cap by renegotiating deals to defer lots of money till next year. (On the other hand, the lack of a deal imposes tougher restrictions on bonuses and incentives, an ESPN.com column says.) Second, agents, knowing the cap's likely to rise under a new labor agreement, might wait and delay to do any free-agent deals, as Sports Illustrated's Don Banks points out.

Long term, the Eagles might also seem set up well, since their lucrative stadium deal makes them one of the league's richest teams. So if there is no cap, they could still compete. Ah, but the NFC East could be the league's richest division. Jerry Jones in Dallas and Dan Snyder in D.C. are hypercompetitive guys likely to bid like Steinbrenners for superstars. The New York Giants aren't paupers either.

What's an Eagles fan's best hope? The team strikes while the iron is hot, bidding so aggressively that agents won't dally and the Birds lock up enough talent to stay competitive for years. In an interview, Andy Reid says the Eagles are ready with a Plan A and a Plan B. Let's hope both plans are to be extremely aggressive.


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