“We’re going to continue to work with the players,” Jeff Pash, the NFL’s lead labor negotiator, said during a news conference in Atlanta that followed a five-hour meeting of the owners’ bargaining committee. “We’ll find out if there are issues that still need to be negotiated, and we’re going to work cooperatively with them through the evening and try to have something in place that both sides can vote on [Thursday] morning.”
The league intended for the owners to vote Thursday even if the players aren’t yet ready to take a vote, Pash said.
“Ratification is an independent process by each side, just as they could ratify something if we haven’t voted,” Pash said. “So I assume we could do so.”
Player representatives authorized their leaders Wednesday to finish the deal with the league, giving a conditional recommendation for approval by all the players if the remaining issues are worked out. But their actions during their meeting underscored the need for the two sides to resolve the players’ antitrust lawsuit against the owners.
“We’re not tied to a timeline of July 21,” Kevin Mawae, the retired center who is the president of the NFL Players Association, said at a morning news conference outside the organization’s offices. “Our timeline is that which gets us the deal that is the best deal for our players. So whether that’s today or tomorrow or whenever it may be, we want to play football. We want to go back to work. But we’re not going to agree to any deal unless it’s the right deal for all the players.”
The owners’ meeting comes with the scheduled opening of some teams’ training camps days away, and with the scheduled Aug. 7 preseason opener fast approaching. Pash said Wednesday it was “getting pretty tight” and would be “pretty challenging” for that game, between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams, to be played. Pash also said the timing for the opening of the free agent market, potentially next week, would depend on when the deal would be approved.
The deal must be approved by at least 24 of the 32 owners. It must be separately ratified by a majority of the sport’s nearly 2,000 players, who could vote by conference call or e-mail. The players could take a single vote to both approve the deal and re-form their union, which they dissolved in March.
The players’ side had left open the possibility that the vote of the players could be taken as soon as late Wednesday. But that would have required a recommendation to vote from the participants in Wednesday’s meeting, which included members of the players’ ruling executive committee and team player representatives. That didn’t happen.
But the player representatives did give a vote of confidence to DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, and the executive committee and authorized them to work out the remaining issues with the league to complete the deal.
The player representatives also voted to send a settlement of the antitrust lawsuit to the players who are the named plaintiffs for their approval, pending the resolution of the remaining issues in those settlement talks with the league. The players regard the approval process as two-tiered: The antitrust lawsuit must be settled first, then the players could ratify the collective bargaining agreement and re-form their union.
There has been talk within the league that the players’ side is seeking the restoration of $320 million in lost benefits from the uncapped season last year as part of a settlement of the lawsuit. The league apparently is balking at that request.
There were reports Tuesday that four of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were seeking compensation, ranging from free agency considerations to financial settlement, as part of the settlement. The reports identified quarterbacks Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, along with San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson and New England Patriots guard Logan Mankins. But Brees and Jackson denied they were seeking such compensation, and agent Tom Condon told the league-owned NFL Network on Wednesday that neither Manning nor Brees had made any demands.