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Are NFL owners crying wolf? Maybe not

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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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On Mondays during the NFL offseason, FOXSports.com senior NFL writer Alex Marvez will address the big moves of the preceding week, the big storylines of the upcoming week and the draft, and free agency implications for both.

Storyline of the Week

The NFL owners meeting is being held through Wednesday in Dana Point, Calif. The hot topic is the state of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the NFL Players Association's recent election of DeMaurice Smith as executive director. To cut to the chase when addressing NFL owners, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should tell them to follow the Pack. Because its financial records are open as a publicly owned company, the Green Bay Packers are the team used primarily by the NFLPA in determining how much money each franchise is earning. Such information isn't released by the league's 31 other clubs (which led to some contentious CBA negotiating by the previous NFLPA regime).
Green Bay turned a $22 million profit for the 2007 season, a decline of $12 million from the previous year. Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy told FOXSports.com that 2008 revenues will be "quite a bit less" than 2007 when figures are released later this year. Other teams are in the same boat, which explains why all 32 owners voted to opt out of the current CBA. The NFL is now on track for a work stoppage in 2011 if a new labor agreement can't be reached. "We're fortunate in a lot of ways," Murphy said. "In terms of total revenue since our [stadium] renovation, we've been anywhere from 8th to 11th out of 32 teams. For the smallest market in the NFL, that's pretty good. We don't have a lot of the debt service like other teams do. From a net standpoint, we're pretty strong. But we're sensitive to the economy. The problems with the current agreement have been amplified by the economy." NFL owners now regret overwhelmingly agreeing to the last CBA extension in 2006. Players are receiving a larger monetary share from more revenue streams than ever before. Some owners are carrying the weight of paying for new stadiums or renovations. Others without new stadiums or favorable leases are lagging behind those that have them. "For a lot of owners, their other businesses are struggling, too," Murphy said. "I think it's two prong how we're getting hit on this." This isn't to say that NFL teams are losing money — yet. But first and foremost, NFL owners are businessmen who want to maximize their profits as well as win games. There is a fear that some lower-tier franchises could eventually fall into the red like the NBA's Indiana Pacers. From a Packers standpoint, Murphy said the team's Pro Shop sales were "very soft" and its annual Fan Fest didn't sell out for the first time. That could stem from the recession or backlash from Brett Favre's departure and the 6-10 season that followed in 2008. Murphy, though, considers the Packers lucky because of their diehard fan base. "We're going to sell out, so we're pretty fortunate there," Murphy said. "But [with] premium seats and sponsorships, that's where we've been pretty proactive because we know a lot of businesses are struggling." Goodell was expected to speak with team executives today about his recent meeting with DeMaurice Smith, who was elected to replace the late Gene Upshaw as NFLPA chief. Murphy said NFL owners are happy a new leader is finally in place. But because of Smith's outsider status as a Washington D.C. lawyer with no previous NFLPA ties, Murphy said NFL owners "still don't really know what it means in terms of collective bargaining and the process." Unless a new CBA is finalized within the next 11 months, the salary cap will be abolished in 2010. That would have significant ramifications for both the players and owners. CBA clauses will greatly restrict movement for many veterans. While some teams will choose a financially conservative path with players because there will be no minimum spending requirements like under the current CBA, more aggressive owners could spend so wildly that it may be difficult to ever reinstate a salary cap. "We'd like to reach an agreement that's good for the game and maintains labor peace, but we're not afraid of an uncapped year," said Murphy, a former All-Pro safety and NFLPA executive who joined the Packers in January 2008. "I think that's where the economy will help us to the extent that there just isn't the money available that you may have had otherwise ... Obviously, the union thinks once we get to an uncapped year that it will be a bonanza. I don't see that."

Cause and effect

Goodell meeting with Marshawn Lynch last week regarding the Buffalo running back's recent guilty plea to a misdemeanor weapons charge. The cause: Lynch was busted three days after making his first Pro Bowl appearance. This led to Lynch being forced to take his second trip to NFL headquarters in the past 10 months for an off-field incident. Last May, Lynch was involved in a late-night hit-and-run accident that injured a female pedestrian near a popular nightlife area in Buffalo. Goodell didn't suspend Lynch but did warn that another episode would bring a sterner punishment. The effect: Hopefully, this will serve as the warning Lynch should have heeded last summer when a Donte' Stallworth-type tragedy was narrowly averted. To reinforce Goodell's point, Lynch believes he will be suspended for the early part of this season. The Bills have steadfastly supported Lynch, a 1,000-yard rusher in each of his first two NFL seasons. Lynch also said all the right things about his desire to change during a recent news conference. Lynch, though, is only 22 years old and has yet to prove he has the maturity to handle the responsibilities that come with being an NFL player. Buffalo already has tried covering its bases in free agency with an unsuccessful courtship of free-agent running backs Fred Taylor (New England) and Kevin Jones (Chicago). With the market for frontline rushers having dried up, the Bills may be forced to turn to the draft for a running back who can team with backup Fred Jackson. This isn't what the Bills expected when choosing Lynch with the No. 12 pick in the 2007 draft.

Draft Watch: Clemson QB Cullen Harper

If last season had been as good as his 2007 campaign, Harper could very well be the first quarterback taken in this year's draft. Harper was brilliant as a junior, throwing 27 touchdowns and six interceptions for a Tigers program expected to compete for the 2008 national championship. But his senior passing statistics plummeted as badly as Clemson's fortunes in a 7-6 season. Harper has the chance to better his stock as a likely mid-round pick Tuesday with a strong Pro Day at Clemson. During a recent interview on Sirius NFL Radio, Harper told me the time he spent in pre-draft workouts with former NFL quarterback/assistant coach Mike Kruczek was a big help. Harper said he is throwing passes more efficiently since Kruczek showed him how to better use his body in his delivery. Harper also will have the Pro Day luxury of throwing to college teammate Aaron Kelly, the Atlantic Coast Conference's all-time leading receiver.

Free-agency Watch: Strong safety Roy Williams

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Williams made his first free-agent visit since his release from the Dallas Cowboys when meeting last week with Cincinnati. Williams reportedly has two other teams interested, but the Bengals are the best fit if the money is right. He would be reunited with Mike Zimmer, who was his defensive coordinator in Dallas for four of Williams' five career Pro Bowl berths. Cincinnati also needs help at strong safety with promising youngster Marvin White coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered last November. Although Williams is considered something of a liability in pass coverage, Zimmer could effectively use him near the line of scrimmage to help bolster the NFL's 21st-ranked run defense in 2008.

Week in Review

Big winner — Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney. The NFL's loss will become Ireland's gain. Rooney — who is beloved by Steelers players and fans — was named the U.S. ambassador to Ireland (pending expected Senate approval). The nomination stems from support Rooney, a lifelong conservative, gave President Obama on the campaign trail. The job will take Rooney away from his day-to-day duties at the Steelers. Fortunately for the Steelers, Rooney's son Art II seems more than capable of maintaining the success of the NFL's defending Super Bowl champions. Big loser — Ball State quarterback Nate Davis. Only one team — Indianapolis, which is a close drive to campus — bothered to attend his Pro Day workout. Davis turned pro early after leading Ball State to a 12-2 record, but now probably wishes he returned for his senior season. Originally projected as an early pick by draft analysts, Davis may not even be chosen because of questions about his physical and mental prowess at the NFL level. Under-the-radar move — Fullback Leonard Weaver leaves Seattle for a one-year, $1.75 million contract with Philadelphia. The short-yardage problems that maligned the Eagles throughout last season may be over. The 6-foot, 242-pound Weaver is a blocking force with additional skills as a rusher and receiver. Weaver averaged 6.6 yards per touch over the past two seasons.

Highlights from this week's calendar

Monday, March 23: Getcha popcorn ready — The Bills and wide receiver Terrell Owens began their offseason workout program this morning, but Buffalo's new No. 81 did not attend. For anyone else in the NFL, this wouldn't be worth raising an eyebrow. But you'd better believe we'll be paying attention again tomorrow to see that if T.O. makes an appearance. Wednesday, March 25: The gag order is lifted! With team owner Jerry Jones' blessing, Dallas coach Wade Phillips will speak to the media for the first time in 2009. Thursday, March 26: The University of Mississippi will conduct its Pro Day, giving Michael Oher a golden chance to leapfrog Alabama's Andre Smith as the draft's third-best tackle prospect behind Virginia's Eugene Monroe and Baylor's Jason Smith. Saturday, March 28: Peter Warrick continues to keep his football dream alive — albeit in an indoor league — as the Bloomington Extreme travels to play the Muskegon Thunder. Warrick, the No. 4 overall pick by Cincinnati in the 2000 draft, also has signed with the Arena and Canadian leagues since his last NFL stint in 200

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