Sides hope to roll cases into 1 accord

Updated: July 19, 2011, 11:43 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

The sides in the NFL's labor dispute are amenable to rolling the remaining issues that are most problematic -- the settlement of the Brady vs. NFL antitrust lawsuit and the television "lockout insurance" damages case -- into a global settlement, sources familiar with the talks told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

A global settlement would mean that those two cases, along with the retired players' lawsuit and all other legal issues, would be dropped if the players ratify a new collective bargaining agreement, which is expected to cover the next 10 seasons. That would be the quickest way to get the lockout lifted.

If the remaining legal issues are not rolled into a global settlement, it would be a very bad sign, potentially even stopping progress.

As part of the pending deal, the NFL and its players have agreed to increase benefits for retired players by nearly $1 billion during the life of the agreement, according to a source. That includes creating a "legacy fund" that will increase by $620 million during the 10-year span, the source said.

The newly created legacy 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.

A group representing retirees filed a lawsuit two weeks ago against both the current players and the league, alleging the retirees were cut out of the mediation, violating a court order that combined the current and former players' suits against the league. The retired players have a hearing on their complaint scheduled Aug. 8 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeanne Graham.

If the retired players reject the new provisions, it has the potential to scuttle any agreement.

Members of the NFLPA's executive committee and representatives of every team were heading to Washington by Wednesday, in preparation for a possible vote.

Players' association spokesman George Atallah said the players would be gathering "with the hope they have something to look at, and with the hope we can move forward on this."

A player representative confirmed that players will vote on the proposed CBA Wednesday, assuming both sides address the unresolved issues beforehand.

"They will explain the CBA and we will vote on it I believe Wednesday," the player said in a text to ESPN.

In an email to his St. Louis teammates, player representative Adam Goldberg said he was headed to Washington and added he would keep Rams players advised of developments.

"This is good news. But, let's not get anxious ... we will not be pressured into taking a 'bad deal' by the NFL's timetable," the Rams offensive tackle wrote. "I look forward to delivering good news, and getting back to work with you guys."

Lawyers for both sides met 8½ hours Monday in New York, including 3½ hours with court-appointed mediator U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, to try to close a deal to resolve the sport's first work stoppage since 1987. Talks were scheduled to continue Tuesday.

"Making progress," said NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, who also represents locked-out NBA players.

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, while free agency is going on.

Meanwhile, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will do "whatever is necessary," including traveling to Washington, where the NFL Players Association's executive committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday, sources told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen.

Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith spoke on the phone Monday and planned to keep in regular contact.

"Nobody cheers for you at Mile 25 of a marathon. You still have to cross the finish line," Atallah said in Washington. "There still are things that can get you tripped up, and we're going to push through."

Before departing for an overseas vacation July 9, Boylan ordered a mediation session in Minneapolis for Tuesday. It had appeared that the mediation session would be canceled after progress was made in New York on Thursday and Friday, but sources say the hope is that mediation will nudge the two sides to a final agreement in time for the players to vote to recertify as a union and approve an agreement Wednesday.

According to sources, the two sides also could use Wednesday morning to finish their mediated negotiation session, if necessary.

The limit of franchise tags on the 10 named plaintiffs in the Brady antitrust lawsuit could be the anchor to a settlement to that case. That would result in named plaintiffs such as Drew Brees, Logan Mankins, Peyton Manning and Vincent Jackson not being subject to any free-agent restrictions in 2012 if their respective teams do not sign them to long-term contracts.

U.S. District Judge David Doty ruled in March that owners did not act in the best interests of players as directed by the previous CBA in creating "lockout insurance." The players have asked Doty to place $4 billion in escrow until the lockout is resolved but Doty has not ruled on the request.

Although the players could have used this leverage to gain the restoration of $320 million in lost benefits from 2010, sources tell ESPN's Mortensen that is now unlikely.

The lost funds are no longer considered a deal-breaker, but a player executive told Mortensen that it must be tied into a compromise on the owners' part.

"It's something our board will certainly discuss depending on what the term sheet looks like," the player executive said.

Under a ratified agreement, teams would have an exclusive 72-hour window to negotiate contracts with their own free agents Friday before those players hit the open market at the start of league-wide free agency July 25.

At federal court in Minnesota, where the players' antitrust suit is pending, their lawyers filed a motion Monday asking for a summary judgment that the lockout is illegal and that players are entitled to damages. The NFL, meanwhile, asked the court for a week's extension to file their formal response to the lawsuit; the original deadline was Monday.

Those filings were necessary, procedural moves that would be rendered moot if an agreement is reached before the Aug. 29 hearing date. Later Monday, the NFL and retired players filed a joint request to delay the hearing for at least a month to allow owners "to focus on the continuing mediation."

Atallah called the current players' filing "an obligation to protect the members of the class."

"Obviously, if we come to a settlement, it all can be lifted at any time," he said.

The regular-season opener is scheduled for Sept. 8, when the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers are to host the New Orleans Saints.

ProFootballTalk.com, citing an unnamed source, reported Monday night that the Packers have begun contacting players to report to a team meeting Saturday. But the NFL has not authorized any teams to begin contacting players, including allowing for brief contact with players about logistics.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick tweeted Monday: "Sound like we gonna be back to work so soon!!!"

Information from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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