NFL lockout: Deal is closer, but rookie wages an obstacle
By Mark Maske and Mike Jones,
Full negotiating teams for the NFL and locked-out players reconvened Wednesday in New York, seeking the elusive finishing touches on a deal to end pro football’s shutdown. An agreement in principle was likely to be completed between Friday and next Tuesday, barring further complications, according to people familiar with the negotiations.
Each side issued a written statement early Wednesday saying the time for a resolution to the four-month-old lockout had arrived.
Quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees said in a statement issued by the NFL Players Association: “We believe the overall proposal made by the players is fair for both sides and it is time to get this deal done.”
The league responded with a statement that said: “We share the view that now is the time to reach an agreement so we can all get back to football and a full 2011 season. We are working hard with the players’ negotiating team every day to complete an agreement as soon as possible.”
Several people not involved in the negotiations but familiar with them said they did not expect a handshake deal to be completed Wednesday. But they said an agreement in principle was possible in coming days.
But the two sides have been within striking distance of an agreement for several weeks, and previously have suffered negotiating setbacks that kept them from reaching an accord.
Deadline pressure may force the two sides into a compromise by Tuesday, when they are scheduled to meet in Minneapolis with their court-appointed mediator, Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur J. Boylan, some people said.
Talks between the full negotiating teams broke off temporarily last Friday after they stalled over the details of a rookie pay system. The league wants to curb the amount of guaranteed money in the contracts of rookies selected in the first round of the NFL draft and divert more to proven veterans. The players’ side appears willing to agree to some provisions, but has been resisting a system as restrictive as the one the league is seeking.
“As long as they’re redistributing the money among the established players in the league, then I don’t think anyone has a real issue with implementing a rookie wage scale,” said Jason Chayut, a New York-based agent. “Initially the owners just wanted to pocket it. That’s what the players had issue with.”
It appears the remaining conflict primarily concerns the top five or 10 players chosen at the very top of each draft. The length of contracts and the amount of guaranteed money in them also could be issues.
Traditionally, first-round draft picks have signed six-year deals with guaranteed totals that make their contracts richer than those of many established veterans.
Sam Bradford, the first overall pick of the 2010 draft, signed a six-year, $78 million deal with $50 million in guarantees before he took a snap. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, following his third Super Bowl victory in 2005, signed a deal worth $66 million over six years.
Trent Williams — the left tackle Washington selected three picks after St. Louis took Bradford — received a six-year, $60 million deal with just more than $36 millionguaranteed.
Other unsettled issues appear to include rules for free agency and ongoing court oversight of the agreement, according to people familiar with the talks. The two sides also appear close to an accord on the core economic issue of how to divide the sport’s revenue, currently at $9.3 billion annually. The deal will include a salary cap system that will give the players just less than half the revenue, people familiar with the bargaining have said.
The owners are scheduled to meet July 21 at an airport hotel in the Atlanta area. If a deal is reached before then, they could take a ratification vote that day. An agreement must be approved by at least 24 of the 32 owners and separately by the players.
If the talks stall again, the owners could use that meeting to consider canceling preseason games. The preseason opener, the Hall of Fame Game, is scheduled for Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio, between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams. That game could be in jeopardy even if a deal is struck in coming days, but the rest of the preseason likely would be preserved. The regular season is scheduled to begin Sept. 8.