With a deal to end pro football’s four-month old lockout virtually complete, some teams and players began preparing Friday to return to work even as negotiators raced to finalize the accord’s details.
Attorneys and financial experts for the league and players are scheduled to work this weekend and negotiators are planning to reconvene Monday, amid widespread expectation that the deal will be finished in time for the two sides to present it to their court-appointed mediator Tuesday. Owners of the 32 NFL teams are scheduled to meet next Thursday in Atlanta and could vote to approve the deal then.
The two sides issued a joint written statement saying talks had been constructive and progress had been made. But several people with knowledge of the talks said a handshake deal was even closer to completion than the statement indicated. They said a tentative agreement was all but in place, with a few details remaining to be worked out.
The deal is expected to be finished and announced next week in time to preserve a full preseason, barring any unexpected setbacks, said those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the deliberations.
As they awaited a resolution, players and front office personnel prepared for the expected opening of training camps by the end of July.
Washington Redskins quarterback John Beck was unloading a moving truck in Northern Virginia Friday afternoon. Beck spent much of the offseason training in California with fellow NFL quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, but boarded a plane from San Diego with his wife and three boys Thursday evening. They endured a three-hour delay in Chicago and landed in Northern Virginia at 3 a.m.
“I want to be able to meet with Kyle [Shanahan, the Redskins’ offensive coordinator] as soon as possible,” Beck said.
New York Giants wide receiver Ramses Barden wrote on Twitter that he had his “cleats laced up for the [first] time since [N]ovember. Heart beating outta my chest.”
NFL teams are scheduled to report to training camps beginning July 22, when the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears, who play each other in the Hall of Fame preseason opener Aug. 7, open camp. The first full round of preseason games is scheduled for Aug. 11-15. The regular season opener is scheduled for Sept. 8 in Green Bay with the Packers hosting the New Orleans Saints.
But other players remained guarded.
“They go back and forth. Until I hear a deal is done and signed, I’m not holding my breath,” said Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander.
Said Redskins wide receiver Anthony Armstrong: “I’m just waiting like a fan, so it sounds good to me. But they can show me better than they can tell me.”
Armstrong has spent the past few weeks training in Miami, but had yet to make plans to head back to Virginia. Several other players reached Friday said they would wait until an official agreement had been struck before they started making plans.
Things remained relatively quiet at Redskins Park. After taking a good portion of June off, coaches returned to work earlier this week to begin planning for the start of training camp. But there was no other increased activity, people at team headquarters said.
When the deal is official, the Redskins are expected to be active in free agency.
NFL officials have said they don’t intend to allow free agency to begin until a new collective bargaining agreement is signed and formally completed. Hundreds of players with expired contracts will be eligible for unrestricted free agency. Player signings and trades were put on hold during the lockout, which began March 12.
Teams might be given a window of a few days to try to re-sign their own free agents before those players are allowed to sign with other clubs. Teams also must sign the rookies they drafted in April and undrafted rookie free agents. Rosters are likely to be expanded for this year’s training camps.
It appears the salary cap will be set at approximately $141 million per team — a figure that includes salaries and benefits — for the upcoming season. Of that total, about $120 million per team would be devoted to players’ salaries. The new deal apparently will contain a raised payroll minimum that requires each team to spend at least 90 percent, or perhaps more, of the salary cap annually.
That would be part of an economic system by which the players apparently will receive about 47 to 48 percent of the sport’s revenue, which is currently at $9.3 billion per season and expected to rise sharply in coming years. The league and players also reached accord Thursday on a rookie pay system that will transfer wealth from first-year players to veterans.
But the official end of the lockout will not come with the agreement in principle. At least 24 of the 32 owners must approve the deal, and players also must ratify it. Their approval vote could be conducted via conference call.
The players’ antitrust lawsuit against the owners, filed March 11, also must be resolved. The players, who dissolving their labor union in March, might have to re-form the union as part of an agreement.
The pact also is likely to resolve a legal case involving the sport’s television contracts as well. The players have been seeking punitive and compensatory damages of about $2.5 billion after winning that case in a Minnesota federal court.
Earlier in the negotiations, the league’s desire to avoid ongoing court oversight of its labor matters appeared to be a key sticking point. In recent weeks, though, that has become less of an issue.
The two sides have been discussing a benefits package for retired players. The league apparently has backed off a demand that teams have the right of first refusal on contracts for a few additional players in this year’s free agency. That would have enabled a team to retain a player by matching any contract offer by another club. The players’ side apparently resisted that provision.
The league previously abandoned its effort to implement a proposed 18-game season immediately. The two sides spent time Thursday and Friday discussing reductions in the number of offseason workouts for players and additional limitations on the amount of contact permitted in some practices during training camp and the season.
The league also has sought to have players blood-tested for human growth hormone.