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After Cowboys Stadium hosts the Super Bowl on Feb. 6, NFL owners and players have less than one month to agree to a new labor contract.
After Cowboys Stadium hosts the Super Bowl on Feb. 6, NFL owners and players have less than one month to agree to a new labor contract. Tom Pennington/Getty Images
With Sunday's Super Bowl approaching, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers are in Texas, preparing for the season's finale. And it may be the last NFL game fans see for a while, thanks to an impasse over profit-sharing.
Billions of dollars are at stake in the NFL's new labor contract. And football insiders are saying that a work stoppage is possible, as NPR's Mike Pesca tells Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep.
"I think both sides are maybe playing up how possible it is for their own interests," he says.
The players union and the league face a March 3 deadline to replace the current collective bargaining agreement. And negotiations aren't likely to begin in earnest until after the Super Bowl.
"If there is no deal done by early March, there are a lot of penalties that go into place," Pesca says. "Revenue will be lost; free agents can't be signed. So at least for a while, both sides should be on the hot seat to try to get something done."
The NFL is financially strong — but the issue of who should benefit from that strength is a contentious one. Here are some of the main disputes:
"The first thing is that players don't have guaranteed contracts," Pesca says, "so for any reason, they can cut any player and only have to give him his signing bonus."
The last NFL work stoppage came in 1987, when Los Angeles Raiders defensive end Howie Long walked the picket line outside the Raiders' headquarters.
The last NFL work stoppage came in 1987, when Los Angeles Raiders defensive end Howie Long walked the picket line outside the Raiders' headquarters. Mark Terrill/AP
Another topic for debate, Pesca says, is the way football divides its profits.
"All the money goes into the pot, and then the owners take a billion out," Pesca says. "From that point on, the players get almost 60 percent, and the owners get 40 percent. And the owners would like to renegotiate that."
The most highly publicized way for the NFL to increase its overall revenue is to play more games.
"If you add two more games to a 16-game season, that's an eighth more football," Pesca says. "You have more people going through the turnstiles, bigger TV ratings, and it lasts longer."
That's what owners want: Expand the regular season to 18 games and shrink the preseason from four games to two.
The players are resisting, saying an extended schedule would reduce the quality of play and lead to more injuries.
In recent years, NFL officials have admitted that an extended season might produce more injuries — but not disproportionately so.
"But now," Pesca says, "new statistics indicate that injuries go up as the season goes on. This is something that the league denies."
Even with those reservations, "most everyone inside the players' association will privately say to you that the 18-game season is a done deal."
Sunday's Super Bowl game could hinge on one injury — to Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey in the AFC Championship game.
The anchor of the Steelers' offensive line, Pouncey will reportedly miss the game because of a high ankle sprain.
"The Steelers line is the worst part of their offense," Pesca says. And without Pouncey, Green Bay should be able to put more pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
"This is a real blow to the Steelers."