NFL players continue reviewing proposed deal
The Associated Press
The NFL Players Association’s executive committee reviewed only portions of a proposed deal to end the lockout and not enough to warrant a vote Tuesday, two people familiar with the league’s labor negotiations told The Associated Press.
A full agreement in principle hadn’t been completed as of Tuesday night, and another person familiar with the talks said there was no guarantee a full document would be finished Wednesday, either.
The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the process is supposed to remain confidential.
While lawyers from both sides worked on contract language in New York with a court-appointed mediator for the second day in a row, the NFLPA’s leadership met for about nine hours at the group’s headquarters in Washington.
“Every day the last two years has been a long day,” NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith said as he left.
If the four-month lockout — the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987 — is going to end this week, in time to keep the preseason completely intact, the best-case scenario is that the players OK a new contract Wednesday, and the owners do so the next day.
Player representatives from all 32 teams were expected in Washington on Wednesday — when they could vote, if a settlement is ready for their consideration.
One of the people who spoke to the AP said lawyers for owners and players planned to continue discussions Wednesday via telephone, instead of the sort of face-to-face talks that produced so much progress last week.
The owners’ labor committee, meanwhile, is set to meet in Atlanta on Wednesday. All owners are expected to gather Thursday for a special meeting when they could ratify the deal and decide to lift the lockout they put in place March 12. Executives from all 32 teams then would be briefed there Thursday and Friday on how the terms would affect league business. Clubs were told topics would include the 2011 NFL calendar, rookie salary system and guidelines for player transactions.
Still unresolved Tuesday was what it would take to get the 10 plaintiffs — including quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson and Patriots guard Logan Mankins — to sign off on a settlement to their antitrust lawsuit against the NFL that is pending in federal court in Minnesota.
Late Tuesday, Jackson tweeted: “I have made no demands, I wanna play ball like the rest of my peers!”
Another pending issue has been the TV networks case, in which players accused owners of setting up $4 billion in “lockout insurance.”
After joining the talks in New York for about seven hours, Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller thought an agreement would be reached this week. He also said retired players won’t stand in the way.
After leaving negotiations, Eller headed to a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“They want to get these games going, and they want to have a season. That’s their focus,” Eller said. “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.
A proposal under consideration would set up nearly $1 billion over the next 10 years in additional benefits for retired players. That would include $620 million in pension increases, long-term care insurance and disability programs.
Retired players complained to the court in Minnesota recently that they had been excluded from negotiations, which is why Eller’s presence was significant.
“We weren’t happy, and we hope it doesn’t go back to that. We hope we stay active in the talks and we hope we continue to have meaningful talks. This clearly lets us know there’s more work to be done,” Eller said. “It’s certainly something we want to keep going and continue the dialogue, continue to work until we have some kind of a solution.”
Lawyers for the NFL and the players suing the league submitted a joint filing to the court Tuesday, asking for an extra week to file written arguments “to allow them to focus on the continuing mediation.” The 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.”
The country’s most popular professional sports league has been in limbo since the old collective bargaining agreement expired March 11. The sides are trying to forge a settlement in time to keep the preseason completely intact. The exhibition opener is supposed to be the Hall of Fame game between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears on Aug. 7; the start of Chicago’s training camp will be delayed even if a new agreement is in place this week, because the team needs extra time to prepare, two people familiar with the situation told the AP on condition of anonymity.
The regular-season opener is scheduled for Sept. 8, when the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers are to host the New Orleans Saints.
The lockout has resulted in pay cuts for non-playing employees around the league, and economic hardship for cities, like Cortland, N.Y., that hosted training camps in the past but won’t this year. On Tuesday, the lower-level UFL — which had been hoping to start its season in the void created by a lack of NFL preseason games — announced it is delaying its season start to mid-September, a blow for a league that has lost $100 million in only two years.