Owners approve proposed labor deal

Updated: July 22, 2011, 10:56 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NFL owners approved a proposed 10-year labor agreement with the NFL Players Association on Thursday, leaving the potential end to the league's lockout in the hands of the players.

Owners voted 31-0 to accept the proposed collective bargaining agreement, with the Oakland Raiders abstaining, after a full day of meetings at an Atlanta-area hotel.

NFLPA leaders told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen a vote among its 32 player representatives appears likely Friday after the group received the "finishing points" of the agreement NFL owners approved Thursday. The NFLPA did not receive those details until after a two-hour conference call with player reps came to a conclusion without a vote Thursday night.

"All in all, despite the games that were played by the NFL, things look much more optimistic," a players' leadership source said.

DeMaurice Smith and other NFLPA officials will attend the funeral for Myra Kraft, the wife of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, on Friday. It is uncertain how it will affect the timeline of further discussions.

One of the sticking points for the NFLPA is that some players want an opt-out clause seven years into the 10-year deal. Such a clause would include a penalty for the side that exercised that option. It is not necessarily a deal-breaker, but some players continue to recommend it.

The NFL players leadership group also is at odds with the league's condition that players recertify as a union before owners will lift the lockout.

The owners believe the NFLPA could recertify as a union by allowing the estimated 1,900 players to use electronic signatures, NFLPA leadership is adamant that it adhere to the same thorough process that led to decertification.

The NFLPA wants players to sign cards to authorize the NFLPA to become a union again, just as it did during the decertification process.

If the NFL player representatives vote Friday to approve terms of the agreement, the NFLPA wants the league to lift the lockout effective Saturday and have union cards at team facilities for players to sign.

If the NFLPA is satisfied with the remaining few finishing points and votes to approve the 10-year agreement, it will submit the documents as a settlement to U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson, who has presided over the antitrust complaint filed by NFL players.

Once the court approves of the agreement, remaining issues such as HGH testing, disability payments, benefits and personal conduct can be collectively bargained only after the players recertify as a union. Those are issues that have been discussed and are not expected to be major hurdles, nor would they be an obstacle to the lockout being lifted, sources said.

NFL general managers and other team executives are meeting Friday to discuss specifics of the labor agreement approved by owners and make plans for the season while awaiting the players' vote on the deal. Four executives from each team have been invited to Friday morning's session at a hotel near the Atlanta airport.

"This has been a long and tenuous process," Carolina Panthers kicker John Kasay said in an email obtained by ESPN. "... We all have to be patient and make sure that we get the right deal for us."

In their proposal, the owners told players that they must re-establish their union quickly for the proposed CBA to stand. The NFL also said it wanted evidence by Tuesday that a majority of players have signed union authorization cards.

"Hopefully, we can all work quickly, expeditiously, to get this agreement done," commissioner Roger Goodell said. "It is time to get back to football. That's what everybody here wants to do."

Under the conditions of the owners' proposal, the players would have Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of next week to try to bargain any changes to the old CBA. Any changes would have to be agreed to by owners in order to be incorporated into the agreement, which would then become final July 30. If the NFL does not agree to the players' proposed changes, the old CBA terms on issues such as benefits, discipline and safety will remain unchanged for another 10 years.

Shortly after results of the owners' vote was announced, Smith told ESPN that team representatives would examine the agreement.

Before NFLPA leaders had seen the owners' proposal, Smith wrote in an email to the 32 player representatives: "Issues that need to be collectively bargained remain open; other issues, such as workers' compensation, economic issues and end of deal terms, remain unresolved. There is no agreement between the NFL and the players at this time."

Multiple owners, however, insisted both sides had reached an agreement.

"That's baffling to me," Panthers owner Jerry Richardson told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio. "We believe we have handshake agreement with the players."

"We believe we have an agreement," added New York Giants owner John Mara. "Now it's up to the players."

A high-ranking NFLPA executive committee member told Mortensen that the owners' approval "puts the onus on players to make a decision to agree -- paints us into a corner with fans. We'll discuss tonight but the idea of reconstituting as a union has never been a slam dunk as the owners have already assumed."

Said another high-ranking NFLPA official: "We are not happy here. We had to honor to not vote on an agreement that was not final (Wednesday). This is not over. This actually takes away incentives from players to vote yes tonight."

Goodell said team training facilities would open Saturday and the new league year would begin Wednesday, contingent on the NFLPA's recertification. The likely start of training camps is estimated to be Aug. 1, sources said.

Goodell also announced the cancellation of the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame preseason game between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears.

"The time was just too tight," Goodell said. "Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to play the game this year."

Smith said the decision to recertify as a union wouldn't be taken lightly, just as the choice to decertify in March was taken seriously "because we were a real union" -- taking a shot at owners' claims that the NFLPA's decertification was a "sham."

"The decision to decertify as a union was a significant one," Smith said. "Every individual person has to make a decision on whether they want to become part of a union. The individual decisions are something that our players take extremely serious."

The players were unable to negotiate a one-time only application of the franchise tag, which is something that was of particular interest to the plaintiffs in the Brady vs. NFL antitrust case.

An NFLPA official said: "Are we happy with that result? No. Is it worth hanging up a deal with 1,900 players? No. The tag has had very few multiple uses and does carry some financial rewards for players. Not allowing more transition tags, via right of first refusal, was a big victory. That would have impacted more free agents than franchise tags."

On abstaining from the owners' vote, Raiders CEO Amy Trask told NFL.com: "We had profound philosophical differences of a football and an economic nature," adding, "we voted the way we thought was appropriate."

Information from ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton, ESPN national correspondent Sal Paolantonio and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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