Free agency delayed again

* NEW YORK (AP)* -- NFL labor negotiations took yet another surprising turn late Sunday when the league and union agreed to postpone free agency another 72 hours, giving the sides more time to try to reach agreement on a contract extension.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the delay would give owners a chance to consider the union's latest proposal during a meeting Tuesday in Dallas.

Talks broke off earlier in the day, leaving dozens of veterans in danger of becoming salary-cap casualties before free agency was supposed to begin at 9:01 p.m. Sunday.

The breakdown in talks was typical of the topsy-turvy negotiations, so far: Just when things seemed darkest, they got back on track; and when it appeared a deal could be struck, talks fell apart.

The union broke off Sunday's session.

"The talks ended after the NFL gave us a proposal which provided a percentage of revenues for the players which would be less than they received over the last 12 years," union leader Gene Upshaw said.

Harold Henderson, the NFL's executive vice president for labor relations, said the union rejected a proposal that would have added $577 million for players in 2006 compared to 2005 and $1.5 billion in the six years of the extension. "It's an unfortunate situation for the players, the fans and the league," Henderson said.

A mere four hours later, things were fluid again.

After a conference call between owners and league officials, including commissioner Paul Tagliabue, the league announced yet another extension — the second 72-hour respite in free agency, which originally was to start last Friday.

"The NFL and the NFL Players Association have agreed to extend the start of the 2006 league year for 72 hours — until 12:01 a.m., EST, Thursday, March 9 — in order to allow the NFL clubs to meet in Dallas on Tuesday to consider the NFL Players Association's offer," the NFL said.

Shortly afterward, Upshaw said: "The NFL negotiators called us tonight after our negotiations broke off to indicate that they will take our complete package to the owners for an approval vote on Tuesday. We have therefore agreed to extend the free-agency deadline until midnight Wednesday in order to provide time for that vote to be accomplished. It was the NFL's previous rejection of our proposal earlier this evening that caused the talks to break down."

The deadline for teams to be under the $94.5 million salary cap also was pushed back, saving many players from being released Sunday. If a deal is reached, the cap could go as much as $10 million higher — allowing teams to keep some of the players.

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