The search committee seeking a replacement for the late Gene Upshaw to run the NFL Players Association has narrowed the field to a little more than a dozen candidates, some with no previous ties to the union or the NFL, a person with knowledge of the search told The Associated Press.
The committee met this week with representatives of Reilly Partners, the search firm seeking candidates to replace Upshaw, who died in August. The union hopes to have a list of finalists set by early next year and select its new executive director at its annual meeting in Hawaii in March.
``The initial book had 25 candidates, and we pared it down to 13 or 14,'' union president Kevin Mawae of the Tennessee Titans said. ``The next step is to do a little more research on the guys we have. We'll meet again with the 13 and then pare that down again.''
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A person familiar with the list told The Associated Press the candidates who made the latest cut are split between former players and non-players, including those who have careers outside football. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the person is not authorized to release such information.
Among those considered strong contenders are Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong, two former union presidents. Other candidates that have been considered are Jason Belser, who played safety for the Colts and Chiefs from 1992-2002 and now works for the union; and David Cornwell, an attorney who most recently has represented a group of players appealing suspensions for taking a diuretic that is a masking agent for steroids.
Another potential candidate, agent Tom Condon, has said he is not interested in the job, citing contract obligations to his firm, Creative Artists Agency. He is believed to be advising Armstrong on his candidacy.
Condon, himself a former union president (1984-86), was Upshaw's agent and was close to the former union chief. He also is a member of the joint union/league disabilities pension board, which has been under fire from retired players.
The candidates are scheduled to meet individually with the search firm through the end of the year before a list of finalists is determined.
Mawae said the union has yet to determine whether the new executive director will be selected by a vote of the NFLPA's 32 team player representatives or whether the search committee will make the decision on its own.
``There's pros and cons to doing it either way,'' Mawae said. ``The last thing we want to do is do it in a way that's going to cause us to pick the wrong person and have to do this process again in a couple of years.''
Several union members are pushing to have the new executive director chosen by election because they want a say in which direction the NFLPA is heading, particularly after Upshaw held the position since 1983.
The union is approaching a critical juncture as prepares for contract talks with the NFL; the league announced its decision to opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement. If no new deal is reached by spring, there's likely to be an uncapped year in 2010, the season before the contract will expire.
Another concern is an ever-widening rift between current and retired players, who have criticized the union for neglecting their needs.
Earlier this month, a federal jury in San Francisco ordered the NFLPA to pay $28.1 million to retired players after finding the union failed to properly market their images in reaching a lucrative marketing deal with Electronic Arts Inc, maker of the popular ``Madden NFL'' video games, sporting card companies and other sponsorship agreements.
Mawae said the union expects to appeal the ruling, but noted the next executive director will need to ease tensions between the two sides.
``The next guy's going to have to understand there are issues between the current players, the union and the perceived lack of respect for the older players,'' Mawae said. ``It's just one of the many issues he's going to have to deal with.''
Tony Richardson of the Jets, another member of the committee, concurred.
``Whoever this person is - male, female, white, black or whatever - they have to relate to everyone. Even in this locker room, there's 53 different guys, 53 different personalities and 53 different backgrounds,'' he said. ``It's a challenge, so it's going to have to be a very, very unique person to have to come in and relate to this 53, but also go up the street to the Giants' facility and relate to their 53.''
Dominique Foxworth of Atlanta, another member of the search committee, emphasized there is no urgency to the search because negotiations are unlikely to get serious until next year.
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AP Sports Writers Teresa Walker in Nashville, Dennis Waszak in New York and Paul Newberry in Atlanta contributed to this story.

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