NFL owners could opt out of their agreement with the players union next week, leaving open the possibility of a 2010 season without a salary cap.

The labor agreement is on the agenda for the league meetings in Atlanta on Tuesday.

"If they don't do it next week then it will be soon after that," Gene Upshaw, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said yesterday. "They want to opt out and we don't."

In the agreement signed in March 2006, both sides were given the right to get out of the deal by Nov. 8, 2008. League officials noted that doesn't mean that a decision could not be made earlier.

That contract was due to expire at the end of the 2013 season. If the owners nullify it, a move that has seemed inevitable for a while, it would end after the 2011 season with 2010 being uncapped.

The end of the agreement does not necessarily mean that there will be a work stoppage, although Upshaw has predicted that the owners could lock out the players in 2011. But the early opt-out also could lead to earlier talks on a new deal, which the owners feel has leaned too far toward the players.

The early termination of the labor contract has been expected for at least the last 6 months. Several owners have complained that the current deal, which gives 60 percent of the revenues to the players, has been too one-sided.

Noteworthy

* New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick lashed out at the team's former video assistant, saying in a televised interview that Matt Walsh was a low-level staffer who was fired for "poor job performance."

Belichick acknowledged that he violated NFL rules prohibiting filming opponents signals but insisted there was no intent to hide what he was doing. *