- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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ATLANTA -- The lockout prevented HBO from having a training camp version of "Hard Knocks," so NFL owners decided Thursday to play "Hard Knocks" with the players, passing a proposed collective bargaining agreement in a 31-0-1 vote.
This was an obvious power play by owners, who want to pressure players into accepting their latest proposal and see how they respond to public pressure. On Thursday night, the NFL Players Association executive board and 32 player reps opted not to vote on the proposal. Players finally received a copy late Thursday of what the owners had passed, but their initial response wasn't favorable. They think they are being played.
Said one player who was on a conference call with the NFLPA and reps: "What they said they voted on were things we didn't even agree to. Players were ticked off at owners and have just dug a deeper trench."
The door was opened for players to report to team facilities Saturday and for agents and teams to discuss contracts for players. But that opening was contingent on the NFLPA executive committee approving the latest proposal.
Players, who might vote on the proposal Friday, are calling this the owners' version of a CBA, not the players'. Still unresolved are a monetary settlement of the $4 billion television insurance the league secured and the players' request for $320 million of lost benefits from last season. It's unlikely players will get that $320 million because it was part of an agreed-upon uncapped year, and it's the owners' position with their settlement announcement that all player lawsuits will disappear.
Part of this power play by owners is to protect their legal position but also force a deadline for the players to come back as a union, which is vital if there is going to be a 10-year agreement. First, the players' executive board must agree upon the settlement for NFL business to start. Second, the owners have set a Tuesday deadline for 50 percent of the 1,900 players plus one player to vote to have the NFLPA as their union.
Owners want to resolve this crazy situation without losing more games. The Pro Football Hall of Fame game between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams, which was canceled Thursday, is the first casualty. If there is no union and no deal by Tuesday, the first week of the preseason could be in trouble, costing both sides $200 million in revenue.
Despite the setback, a deal is about 97 percent done. It's the final 3 percent that is creating this gamesmanship. By passing the proposed CBA, owners are pressuring players to accept or quickly modify the proposal.
Welcome to "Hard Knocks."
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.