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NFL's Jets Call New Play - Unpaid Leave

The New York Jets told employees on the business side of the team's operations Thursday that they must take two weeks of unpaid leave this offseason in an effort to withstand the sagging economy.

Rather than cut jobs, as several other teams and the league office have done in recent weeks, owner Woody Johnson approved a plan that requires approximately 50 employees to take furloughs during a four-week period in late-June and early July, Matt Higgins, the team's executive vice president of business operations, told The Associated Press.

The departments affected include marketing, media relations, finance and business operations. Employees on the football side, such as general manager Mike Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan, aren't included in the plan because those departments are making reductions to their operating expenses.

"Like every other business in America, we're facing challenges and trying to weather those challenges," Higgins said. "We're implementing a furlough plan that reflects the fact that our business is seasonal. We really wanted to do everything possible to preserve jobs and keep our team together."

Johnson worked with Higgins, Thad Sheely, the Jets' executive vice president of stadium development and finance, and several others on the plan.

"Woody, myself and Thad, we all felt it was important to keep everyone employed from a humanitarian standpoint," Higgins said. "There's a sense of esprit de corps we'll all work together on this. ... I don't want to speak for everybody, but by and large, the decision has been received positively."

Last week, the NFL announced that it had reduced its staff by 15 percent and commissioner Roger Goodell took a 20-25 percent pay cut. Meanwhile, teams such as Cleveland, Washington, Indianapolis and Carolina have cut jobs during the tough economic times.

"We all needed to make a sacrifice collectively so we can keep the team together," Higgins said. "We considered layoffs, but we felt we were at a unique crossroads."

Higgins said the team is "relatively weathering" the struggling economy after relocating its headquarters to Florham Park, N.J., last fall and having the prospects of a new shared stadium with the Giants opening in 2010. The team is also encouraged by its personal seat license program and several long-term sponsorships for its facility and stadium.

The Jets have spent big bucks on high-priced players the last two offseasons, including doling out $140 million last winter and signing linebacker Bart Scott to a six-year, $48 million deal last week. Higgins didn't think there would be any backlash from employees or the public because of the spending on the field.

"The object of the football team is to win on the field, and you know what it takes and I think everyone understands that," he said. "We're all here to win."

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