Favre shows his toughness

A few notes from Sunday’s games:

• Brett Favre stayed away from the “No!” throws virtually all season but then threw one at the most inopportune time. At the moment of the interception, I received many messages from those who took sides in the Favre-Packers divorce and had been predicting that throw for months. I think that’s a bit unfair; there was so much more to the game than that throw, especially the unforgiveable penalty for illegal substitution right before it. No disrespect to the Saints, but that game was lost more than it was won. Despite that pass, I thought Brett showed all the toughness that has defined his career; he was a warrior.

• Peyton Manning is so good that the lingering question from the AFC Championship game is whether players like Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie are really the quality players they appeared to be or whether it was due to the incomparable Manning. The Colts lost one starting receiver to injury, Anthony Gonzalez, and made little to no effort to sign their best receiver the past decade – Marvin Harrison. Instead, they went with unknown players who looked like seasoned and valuable pros. Is it them or is it Manning?

• Maybe now we can lose the chatter about how to coach a team when it has clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Colts and Saints were purposely a shell of themselves in the waning weeks of the season and now they’re in the Super Bowl. The goal is not to win the regular season; the goal is to win the postseason.

Now, a look behind the scenes at what’s going on – or not going on -- in bargaining for next season in the NFL, following the one game left on the schedule this season.

We’re sure hearing a lot of rhetoric in the ongoing labor quarrel between the NFL owners and players. It seems like the media blackout that existed for a few minutes has been lifted, with both sides ratcheting up the dialogue and trying to win over a public that doesn’t want to support either side.

Last week, we heard from Giants owner John Mara speaking on behalf the ownership group, and Robbie Gould and Kevin Mawae speaking for the players. The message, although coming from different viewpoints, was essentially the same: We are getting nowhere. The difference, of course, is where to lay the blame, as each side is predictably blaming the other.

As we’ve been saying for months, the end of the business of the NFL as we know it is coming, and it’s coming soon. Negotiations do not appear to be gaining any promise that we’ll have a deal by the announced start of the new league year on March 5. Of course, deadlines spur action, but the sides appear locked in on this one.

There’s certainly evidence that both sides are in for a fight. No teams carried forward salary cap money into 2010, leaving millions on the table. Tampa Bay, which rolled over $27 million in cap room from 2008 to 2009, will leave millions on the 2009 table rather than bringing it forward into 2010. This is a strong indication/belief that there will not be a cap or a new agreement this year.

The union has a strike fund growing by the day. The NFL has deals in place – especially with DirecTV – that provide funding during a potential lockout in 2011. And, as noted previously, Bob Batterman, the attorney who guided the NHL through its 2004-2005 lockout, is advising the NFL and its teams.

As I’ve said often, this is the most unique labor negotiation ever between a major professional sports league and its union. In an amazingly backward state of affairs, the NFL appears to embracing life without a salary cap, a cap it fought so hard to have and maintain. And the union appears to be hoping against hope for life with a cap, something every union has fought hard to keep out (with only the baseball union succeeding).

The reason for both stances is that without a salary cap there is no salary floor, which is presently at $108M. Without a salary floor, teams can spend as little as they want, meaning there may be teams spending as little as perhaps $75-$80M on players, even less.

So the big question in an uncapped year becomes not whether the presumed Steinbrenner-esque spenders – the Redskins and Cowboys tend to be mentioned the most – will spend loosely, but whether a host of other teams – the Jaguars, Bills, Chiefs and Bucs, to name a few – become the Marlins and Pirates of the NFL, spending far below the current cap threshold for minimum spending.

Tuesday, we’ll look at the key issue in the negotiations – how much each side gets – and the back and forth about NFL teams “showing their books” to the union.

In order to give every reader a primer on what you need to know about the new way of doing business in the NFL starting in March, the National Football Post has just announced our first NFP Webinar on Feb. 17, “The End of the NFL as we know it.” I will go through all you need to know (and some you don’t) about the new NFL landscape in 2010. It will be “must-have” information for every football fan.

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