BY GEOFF HOBSON
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue ended the annual league meetings Wednesday by saying there has been progress during the week in the labor picture. But his owners left Hawaii still divided on revenue sharing, the key issue in extension of the collective bargaining agreement.
Also Wednesday, the Bengals were part of the owners' league-wide effort to make the game safer in a series of rule changes.
The owners unanimously approved a 15-yard penalty for a "peel back" block like the one that ended Bengals defensive tackle Tony Williams' season last year when Broncos tackle George Foster broke his ankle on a cut block from behind.
Rock the vote
According to ESPN.com, the owners also voted unanimously to broaden the definition of unnecessary roughness to include running, diving into, cutting, or throwing the body against or on a player who is out of the play.
One of those 2004 incidents interested the Bengals in that category. On the last play of the half against New England, wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh got hit out of bounds and nothing was called. Now, the offense will get another play if there is unnecessary roughness at the end of the half or game.
The Bengals were one of 12 teams to vote against reviewing change of possession plays stopped by inadvertent whistles. A total of 20 teams supported the idea of including "down by contact" plays in instant replay, but it needed 24 votes to pass. The Bengals, who have never voted for instant replay, kept true to their philosophy, as did the rest of the core of the anti-instant replay teams: Bears, Cardinals and Bills.
It's believed the Bengals also voted with the majority against two bids to change the illegal contact rules in the passing game. Kansas City's resolution to bring the college game's pass interference rule to the pros (a 15-yard penalty instead of a spot foul) went down by 24-8. The Chiefs' effort to wipe out an automatic first down on five-yard illegal contact penalties also got voted out, 21-11.
The Associated Press quoted Tagliabue as saying, "I think we've made significant progress internally on the collective bargaining issues we're facing."
The AP said the teams and the NFL Players Association have agreed to expand the formula and revenue for the salary cap, jacking the total money counted in the cap from 88-90 percent to 92-93 percent. The NFLPA told the AP the owners want to cut the players' take from 64 percent to 57 percent and the players want 65 percent.
The major focus now seems to be on the internal rift between the large-market owners and those like the Bengals who are among the low-revenue teams in a long simmering split that began to become public at last year's meeting in Palm Beach, Fla.
AP cited quotes by small market owners Dan Rooney of Pittsburgh and Jim Irsay of Indianapolis, as well as Jerry Jones of the big-market Cowboys, as evidence the disagreement still exists.
They are trying to agree on some kind of formula that strikes a compromise between cities like Dallas, Washington, New England, New York, and Philadelphia, and small markets like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Indianapolis.