As NFL players and teams made preparations to return to work, representatives of the league and players worked Sunday to try to have an official, written version of their 10-year collective bargaining agreement ready for player leaders to review Monday.
The major elements of the deal essentially were in place, several people familiar with the discussions said. Members of the players’ ruling executive committee are scheduled to meet Monday in Washington and are likely to recommend approval of the labor agreement to the entire group of players.
The deal must be ratified by a majority of the close to 2,000 NFL players to take effect, but people within the sport said that approval would be virtually certain if the executive committee recommends such ratification.
Agents were telling players late Saturday and Sunday to be ready to report to teams’ facilities at midweek for voluntary workouts and to prepare to report to training camps late in the week. Teams’ front offices were gearing up for the expected start of free agency.
People within the sport were crediting NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, with forcefully pushing the talks in the late stages toward a resolution.
Some players reacted angrily after the owners voted, 31-0 with one abstention by the Oakland Raiders, on Thursday in Atlanta to approve the labor deal and conditionally end the lockout in stages, based on ratification of the agreement by the players’ side. Some players said Thursday night that had been a public relations maneuver by the owners to put pressure on the players’ side. Those players said not all of the terms of the agreement were completed, and the owners had ratified some provisions that hadn’t been negotiated with the players.
But Smith calmed the players and moved them toward resolution of the final details necessary to complete the agreement, people familiar with the players’ deliberations said. The league and players had agreed to the major economic components of the deal, including a salary cap system giving the players just less than half the sport’s revenues and a rookie pay system to curb the amount of guaranteed money in rookies’ contracts, by July 15.
Issues emerged about ironing out the final details, including differences between the two sides about how the players would go about re-forming their union as part of the process of ratifying the deal. But Smith and Goodell took a hands-on approach in leading the talks between the two sides working toward a resolution, people within the sport said.
There are parts of the collective bargaining agreement that cannot be worked out until after the players have re-formed their union. Those provisions include drug-testing matters, pension issues and matters related to the sport’s disability board. So while some within the sport said they expect the players to agree to blood-testing for human growth hormone as part of the labor deal, that issue won’t be decided officially until after the players re-form the union.
Under tentative plans that were in place by Saturday night, the executive committee’s expected approval recommendation to all players Monday would trigger players being allowed into teams’ training facilities Tuesday or Wednesday for voluntary workouts. Teams also might be permitted to begin signing their rookies and re-signing their own free agents, all to conditional contracts, at midweek. Those contracts would be voided if the lockout is not lifted.
If a majority of all players vote by Friday to re-form the union and ratify the collective bargaining agreement, the lockout officially would end. Training camps tentatively could open Saturday, along with the launch of full free agency. The timeline for the lifting of the lockout, the opening of camps and free agency was subject to change, people within the sport cautioned.
It was not immediately clear how the two sides would resolve a request by the players’ side for an opt-out clause in the deal allowing either party to choose to end the agreement after seven seasons. It did not appear the players would press that issue if the league resisted strongly. The agreement would include a resolution of the litigation between the two sides, including the players’ antitrust lawsuit against the owners, a case by the players involving the sport’s television contracts and a collusion claim by players against teams.
The players dissolved their union in March in conjunction with filing their antitrust lawsuit.