The final hurdle to implementation of the five-year collective-bargaining agreement between the National Football League Players Association and the NFL owners was cleared yesterday when a federal judge in Minnesota gave final approval to payments totaling $15.8 million to players as settlement of a class-action suit.
U.S. District Court Judge Earl Larson gave tentative approval to the settlement March 29. It calls for owners to pay $13,675 million to the players in the lawsuits filed on behalf of Kermit Alexander, former San Francisco 49 ers and Los Angeles Ram defensive back. $2.2 million in the case tiled for Baltimore Colt tight end John Mackey and up to $150,000 in court costs.
The settlement was tied in with the labor contract ratified March 25 by the NFLPA.
Through Los Angeles Attorney Howard Slusher, several players had asked Judge Larson not to approve the agreement because, they claimed, it hurts free agents by setting compensation too high for teams that lose players who play out their options.
Larson threw out the objections of the 19 players who felt the contract would give teams a tighter hold on players than the old "Rozelle Rule" did.
"I don't see any further roadblocks to implementing the agreements made under the contract," NFLPA executive director Ed Garvey said yesterday. "This is the end of a five-year fight.
"The few players who objected to this kept us in court for a couple of months and their objections were invalid. This contract will help the medium-salaried player. We feel it's a worthwhile experiment: it will work.
Larson, who heard more than 50 days of testimony, wrote in his 45-page decision, "Fewer than one-half of 1 per cent of the class members have objected to any phase of the settlement.
"Only 19 individuals have indicated any objection . . . out of 5700 members of the class," he added.
The money from the Alexander-Mackey cases will be divided among the players based on a point system for number of years in the league, playing out an option or being drafted. Individual payments will range from $150 to $20,000. The money will be paid over a 10 years period.
The labor agreement threw out the "Rozelle Rule" allowing the commissioner to establish free-agent compensation and give the clubs a draft choice for compensation; the higher the free agent's salary, the higher he draft pick given as compensation.
"We're all happy about this," Garvey said. Ive talked with people in management today and they're pleased. Once we made the agreement we all had to work together to get it approved."
An attorney for some players who challenged the settlement, John M. Thomas of Los Angeles, said the decision would be appealed.
But an appeal challenging the class-action agreement approved on behalf of about 3,000 athletes who would share in the payments by NFL clubs would not seem likely to have much chance.