[size=18px]NFL Insider: It's already 2-minute warning time[/size]

From early Super Bowl XLI odds to free agency, the draft and -- oh yeah -- labor issues, there is no rest for the league.

Mark Craig
Last update: February 11, 2006 – 11:57 PM

If triple toeloops and the anticipation of men playing catch in Florida just aren't cutting it, do not be alarmed. The NFL and its maniacal following never truly rests.

Sportsbook.com, which calls itself the world's largest online sportsbook and casino, posted odds to win Super Bowl XLI on Monday, less than 24 hours after the Steelers beat the Seahawks 21-10 in Super Bowl XL.

The Colts opened as a 4-to-1 favorite. The Steelers were second at 8-to-1. The Vikings? They were 30-to-1, while the Packers were 100-to-1, which is pretty bad considering the Cardinals and Lions were 75-to-1.

Super Bowl, homeboy? Randy and the Raiders are 50-to-1, which is pretty good without a head coach.

"There could still be some huge factors that could shift the odds in coming months," said Alex Czajkowski, the marketing director for sportsbook.com.

Gee, ya think?

Technically, the new NFL season doesn't begin until March. But the machine rolls on, making and/or creating news with each chug forward. The scouting combine takes place in Indianapolis in two weeks. Free agency and the trading period begins March 3. And the draft is April 29-30.

And, oh yeah, the Pro Bowl -- a game nobody wants to play in and everybody forgets to watch -- is today. Check your local listings for game time because, well, I just don't care.

Many stars such as Donovan McNabb and Carson Palmer are busy rehabbing physical injuries. Others such as Terrell Owens are rehabbing negative perceptions. And then there's Daunte Culpepper, who needs a whole bunch of both before fall.

Hmm. Is there anything else going on? Let's see ...

Oh, that's right. The backdrop to everything is the threat that in 13 months, the goose that keeps laying all of these golden eggs will be slaughtered by millionaire players and billionaire owners.

By all accounts, negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) are going nowhere.

The NFL Players' association not only wants a higher percentage of the league's revenue, it wants the total football revenues (TFR) expanded to include the local bonanzas that currently are exempt.

The owners, meanwhile, are torn amongst themselves in addition to being at odds with the players. The really rich owners (see: Snyder, D.; Jones, J.) not only want to keep the local money from the players, but also from their fellow owners. The old-guard owners (read: less rich) such as Lamar Hunt believe it's time to expand revenue sharing to include the local money.

Sadly, Wellington Mara isn't alive to offer wisdom to the greediest of owners. It was the late Mara, after all, who pushed for revenue sharing decades ago when he could have sat in New York with his Giants and gobbled up the biggest pieces of the pie. Had he gone the latter route, the golden goose would have been cooked long ago.

The current CBA doesn't expire until March 2008, but the real deadline is March 2007. If no deal is reached by then, there will be no salary cap in 2007.

Daniel Snyder, Jerry Jones and other owners of their ilk in an uncapped year would be disastrous. They would destroy the competitive balance that is vital to the NFL's popularity. Without it, every other game becomes Gophers vs. Southwest Texas State, including all those empty seats.

"We do have serious economic issues we have to address and resolve," Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in Detroit two days before the Super Bowl. "We need more outreach on both sides. I'm not optimistic, but that's what it is sometimes in negotiations."

Tagliabue also said, "A lot of things in life get resolved in the 11th hour, 59th minute." But the closer the NFLPA gets to an uncapped year, the less likely it will be to accept terms of a new CBA.

Already, free agent contracts this offseason are expected to be affected. It only makes sense. After all, who wants to be locked up longterm when there's a possibility the dollars will really start flying like mad in March of 2007?

"If we are having a difficult time reaching an agreement now, I don't want to imagine what it could be like in 2006 and 2007," Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFLPA, said at a news conference in Detroit. "If they don't like our proposal now, they really won't like it then."

The NFLPA will meet March 9 to consider whether decertifying the union is the best strategy. Decertification would prevent the owners from locking out the players, per antitrust laws.

Fifteen days after that, the owners meet in Orlando. Like we said, in the NFL, there is no resting.

Mark Craig • [email protected]

2 Minute Warning