American Football: Talks stalemate

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NEGOTIATIONS between the National Football League owners and the players' union have broken down just a week after the two sides agreed in principle on a deal that would have led to the creation of a limited free agency system (freedom of contract) for NFL players.

Last week's agreement would have allowed a reduced player draft, a salary cap and free agency for NFL players of five years' experience.

The players accused some owners of doing an about-face on the free agency issue, while the owners said the players' representatives were unwilling to compromise on any of the key issues.

Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players' Association, said the issue of free agency was the major stumbling block for owners. 'The owners cannot accept the players' free agency,' he said. 'When it came time to face the reality of free agency, they backed out of the deal. . . They said they cannot give it to us.'

The owners insisted that players whose contracts expired be given just 60 days to negotiate with any teams they chose. After that, unsigned players would return to their team.

'The most amazing thing was that they wanted to put a limit on free agency itself,' Jim Quinn, a lawyer for the players, said. 'They limited the time to 60 days, even though in other sports in which we have free agency, free is free, not free for a while.'