NFL must satisfy antitrust plaintiffs

Updated: July 20, 2011, 12:41 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

The NFL will have to satisfy the 10 named plaintiffs in Brady vs. NFL antitrust case in order to complete the deal for its new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.

As named plaintiffs, players including Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Logan Mankins and Vincent Jackson would be entitled to compensation as part of any settlement.

None, though, were expected to derail any possible deal with their demands.

One high-ranking NFLPA executive told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen: "Any media reports of a last-minute power play by players are misleading and erroneous. There are unresolved issues and we remain focused on resolving them."

Yahoo! Sports has reported that Jackson's agents have requested that the wide receiver become an unrestricted free agent when the lockout was over or receive $10 million. The Boston Globe said that both Manning and Brees were seeking to avoid the use of a franchise tag, which would make Manning an unrestricted free agent, and give Brees the same status after the 2011 season.

Manning, Jackson and Mankins all received franchise tags before the NFL locked out its players in March.

Brees denied the reports on his Twitter account Tuesday night.

"I hesitate to even dignify the false media reports with a response, but obviously they are leading people astray," Brees wrote.

The former Super Bowl MVP continued with a pair of posts an hour later.

"I want no special perks. My job is to get a fair deal for all players, and I am proud to represent them all - past, present and future," Brees wrote. "All media claims about me wanting a personal reward for this deal are false. I hope you all know me better than that."

Tom Condon, the agent for both Brees and Manning, told Mortensen on Tuesday the quarterbacks asked him to reiterate their support for all players and the NFLPA's negotiating team.

"They haven't asked for anything individually and continue to be 100 percent behind the players' efforts to resolve the negotiations," Condon told Mortensen.

A league source confirmed to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter earlier Tuesday the demands made by Jackson's agents, but Mankins and his agent, Frank Bauer, have not given their damages or repayment number to the NFLPA or its attorneys yet, according to the source.

One league source told Schefter that he doubted Jackson, in particular, would hold up a settlement, however.

"Is Vincent Jackson going to hold up the NFL season for 1,900 players, the clubs and the fans? Too smart a guy for that," the source told Schefter.

Jackson took to Twitter as well Tuesday night, also claiming he had made no demands.

"Preciate the support guys! Can't believe all u read or see in media" Jackson wrote. "I have made no demands, I wanna play ball like the rest of my peers!"

Sources told ESPN.com's John Clayton that neither Jackson nor Mankins have been contacted recently about a settlement to the Brady lawsuit. However, the NFLPA was drawing up a draft of the settlement to review Tuesday, a player source told Schefter earlier Tuesday.

Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, apparently reacting to reports that some of the plaintiffs in the Brady lawsuit were stalling negotiations with their demands, voiced his displeasure Tuesday afternoon on Twitter.

"Sigh, and once again greed is the operative byword. 'Congrats Brees, Manning, Mankins, and Jackson for being 'that guy'. #d-----bags," he wrote.

If any of the plaintiffs were unhappy with settlement terms, they could object and opt out of the class action. That would not derail a settlement and would not, in itself, stop a new collective bargaining agreement.

But both the NFL owners and players have been working on a "global solution" that would include settling all legal issues surrounding their labor battle. And if the antitrust case is not settled, that could be a deal-breaker.

According to ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack, if any of the named plaintiffs opt out, the antitrust suit would remain alive in federal court.

"The question then would be who would finance the suit?" Cossack said. "Who would pay the legal fees for Mankins and Jackson? Unless you're Bill Gates, you don't want to get into an antitrust case with the NFL."

There is precedent for plaintiffs in the Brady lawsuit to demand free agency. As part of the Reggie White antitrust lawsuit vs. the NFL in 1993 that instituted free agency, the plaintiffs were granted a lifetime exemption from the franchise tag.

Lawyers for both sides met at a New York law firm Tuesday, joined by court-appointed mediator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, for the second consecutive day. The talks stretched late into Tuesday night as the groups tried to hash out language for the proposed settlement.

With attorneys aiming to produce a finished document in time for votes on Wednesday and Thursday, commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith also planned to talk late into the night to bring the sides closer to an agreement after a frustrating day of discussions among the players' executive committee in Washington D.C., sources told ESPN's Mortensen.

The executive committee met for more than 10 hours Tuesday before breaking up for the night and player sources say there was a level of frustration at the slow pace of negotiations as an expected vote on a new agreement nears.

"This isn't a players strike, it's a lockout," said a source. "The committee is not going to say yes to an agreement they're uncomfortable with just because of the anticipation we're about finished. There has to be more progress. We want closure but it has to be the right closure."

While the lawyers continue to work on a new agreement and resolve issues in New York, the NFLPA's executive committee will reconvene at 9 a.m. and will be joined by 32 team player representatives. Sources told Mortensen the committee will not recommend a vote on a proposed agreement until they are satisfied with the terms.

The NFL sent a memo to all 32 teams Monday instructing key executives to attend Thursday's owners meeting in Atlanta, sources told Schefter. Each team will have two representatives (the owner and one executive) in the room to vote on a CBA, if one is agreed to by players and owners. However, each team also will bring other front-office personnel to learn about the rules of a potential new CBA.

If the owners ratify a new CBA Thursday, players can begin arriving at facilities Friday and team activities can begin as early as Monday.

However, even if the lockout is lifted this week and players return to work, the start of training camp will be delayed for some teams, namely the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams, sources from both sides told ESPN's Schefter on Tuesday.

The Bears were scheduled to be the first team to report to camp on July 22, with the Rams following the next day, July 23. Now, one source said the soonest those teams will be in camp is July 26. The teams are slated to face off in the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 7, but the status of that game is up in the air.

Aug. 1 is considered the most likely start time for training camp if a deal is done later this week, a source told Schefter. Another source said that camp would be delayed "four to five days after the start of full free agency," which could take place Monday, July 25 or Thursday, July 28.

Last season, most teams opened camp between July 28 and Aug. 1, but official dates for 2011 had not been submitted to the NFL Management Council as teams waited for the lockout to be lifted.

One potential roadblock to a settlement was cleared Tuesday when Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller, a lead spokesman for retirees during the labor process, said retired players won't stand in the way of an agreement.

Eller and lawyers for the retired players joined the negotiations in New York for about seven hours Tuesday. After leaving the negotiations, Eller headed to a meeting with Goodell.

"They want to get these games going, and they want to have a season. That's their focus," said Eller, who believes a deal to end the lockout will come this week. "Our issues are very, very critical -- very important -- but they don't really have much to do with whether the game goes on or not."

He said "there's still a lot more to be done" when it comes to benefits for former players, but that could be resolved after the main dispute is settled.

Eller's comments come one day after a source told ESPN that as part of the pending deal, the NFL and its players have agreed to increase benefits for retired players by nearly $1 billion over the life of the agreement. That includes creating a "legacy fund" that will increase by $620 million over the 10-year span, the source said.

The newly created fund is designed to help retired players deal with the injuries and troubles that come after football and would be financed by siphoning off a chunk of total league revenues.

Mankins

Also on Tuesday, lawyers for the NFL and the players suing the league submitted a joint filing to the court, asking for an extra week to file written arguments "to allow them to focus on the continuing mediation." Tuesday's request, which was granted in the afternoon, noted that "the parties have also been meeting regularly since April 11, 2011, in an effort to resolve their disputes."

Jackson and Mankins both sat out several games last season in contract disputes with their teams. Both were restricted free agents -- a result of the NFL's going from a salary-cap system to an uncapped year in 2010.

Jackson's original five-year contract expired after the 2009 season. Unhappy that he didn't get a long-term deal, Jackson refused to sign a $3.27 million one-year tender in 2010.

He sat out the first seven games, then reported and served a three-game suspension on the roster exempt list. The 6-foot-5 Jackson was on the active roster for the final six games to accrue a season toward unrestricted free agency. But because Jackson hadn't signed the tender by June 15, prior to the 2010 season, the Chargers slashed their offer to 110 percent of his 2009 salary, or $583,000. Due to the games he missed, he made less than $300,000 in 2010.

Mankins and the Patriots were at odds last summer, when the guard said he hoped to be traded because of the slow pace of negotiations on a contract extension.

Mankins refused to sign his $3.26 million tender. That led to an extended standoff, with Mankins not reporting until the eighth game of the season. The Patriots sliced his tender to $1.54 million, which was prorated over the final nine games of the season.

Information from ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton, ESPNBoston.com Patriots writer Mike Reiss and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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