THE PHILADELPHIA Eagles are close to scoring a settlement with the city in a long-running financial dispute that turned into a public fiasco earlier this year.

A ruling anticipated next week in Common Pleas Court will likely mean that the team owes the city between zero and $3 million after both sides claimed they were owed $8 million.

Senior Judge Albert Sheppard Jr. yesterday handed down the first half of a two-part ruling, finding that the Eagles owe the city $8 million from skybox revenue for the 2000 and 2001 football seasons at Veterans Stadium.

Sheppard is expected to rule next week on the team's counterclaim for $8 million from a preseason game canceled in 2001 due to problems with the city-maintained playing surface.

Mathieu Shapiro, an attorney for the team, said that he expects Sheppard to award the Eagles between $5 million and $8 million, based on recent negotiations between Mayor Nutter's administration and the team's attorneys.

Nutter said yesterday that he was "certainly pleased" that the first half of the dispute is resolved, a sentiment echoed shortly after in a statement released by the Eagles. Nutter declined to speculate on how Sheppard will rule next week on the team's countersuit.

"I'm not going to try to predict the future," Nutter said.

Sheppard ruled in August 2005 that the Eagles owed the city revenue from the skyboxes and that the team was owed money for the missed preseason game.

The two sides have been negotiating during the lawsuits, trying to settle the matter. That blew up into a public spectacle in March when the Eagles went to court, claiming to have struck a deal with then-Mayor John Street to quietly settle the dispute for less than $1 million while the team and the city negotiated the terms to build Lincoln Financial Field.

Street denied that he had approved a secret deal, calling the team's claims "almost ludicrous."

The Eagles, while claiming that the deal existed, told the court in March that the lawsuits led to "precisely the type of negative publicity" the team wanted to avoid.

The dispute played out this year as the city struggled to close a $1.4 billion gap in its five-year spending plan. Protesters from ACORN, an advocacy group for low-income families, picketed the Wynnewood home of Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie in March, singing "Pay, Eagles, Pay" to the tune of the team's fight song.

Shapiro said that the Eagles are dropping a request made in March to have Sheppard force the city to live up to the deal the team claimed to have with Street.

"We still think we were right about that," Shapiro said. "That deal happened. But this is how we resolved the case. And we're happy to have resolved it." *