NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Football fans, there’s reason to be optimistic. The end to the NFL’s four-month-long lockout could be near.
According to the NFL Network’s Albert Breer, the “economics” are done for a deal between the league and its players, “outside of some ancillary details.”
“There are still plenty of other hoops for the sides to jump through,” Breer tweeted on Friday, “and important issues like the Legacy Fund, player safety left to cover.”
This comes after a burst of momentum in NFL labor talks on Thursday. Negotiating teams for owners and players are meeting again Friday in Manhattan to try and reach a tentative deal on a new collective bargaining agreement.
According to multiple reports, a major sticking point in the labor impasse — soaring rookie salaries — has been eliminated.
Sources cautioned The Associated Press yesterday, however, that other key issues remained for owners and players to resolve.
NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith says he knows “our fans are frustrated” and want the two sides to get a deal done. He and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell are leading their respective negotiating teams.
Talks gained steam in May, overseen by a court-appointed mediator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, who is on vacation this week. Boylan ordered both sides to meet with him in Minneapolis early next week, and the owners have a special meeting set for next Thursday in Atlanta, where they potentially could ratify a new deal.
Any agreement also must be voted on by groups of players, including the named plaintiffs in a class-action antitrust lawsuit pending in federal court and the NFLPA’s 32 team representatives.
Baltimore Ravens defensive back Domonique Foxworth emphasized that when the last of the participants left after 11:30 p.m. Thursday, saying “there’s really no deal until our players approve it.”
Even once an agreement in principle on the core economic issues is drawn up, there will be more work to be done. That’s because there are certain issues that won’t be addressed in full until after the NFLPA re-establishes itself as a union — a process that might take a couple of days — and can then serve once again as a collective bargaining unit for the players.
Items that could fall under that umbrella include the league’s drug-testing program, health insurance, retired players’ pensions and other benefits, none of which is likely to be resolved completely while the union is still dissolved.
There’s also a chance the players could pursue a lockout injunction for rookies and free agents after an appeals court ruled last week that the work stoppage could continue.
The NFL locked out players in March, after negotiations broke down and the old collective bargaining agreement expired, and now the preseason is fast approaching. The need to arrive at a deal becomes greater with each passing day.
The Hall of Fame game that opens the exhibition season is scheduled for Aug. 7 between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears, who hope to be able to start training camp at the end of next week. Yet camps will not open without a new CBA in place.
Disruptions to the planned preseason schedule would decrease the overall revenue pie — by tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, depending on how many games are canceled. The parameters for how to divide the more than $9 billion in annual league revenues have been sketched out, but remaining hurdles include the owners’ desire to have more right-of-first-refusal tags for unrestricted free agents.
The players want to get back to free agency rules similar to 2009, when a four-year veteran whose contract expired was unrestricted. That minimum shifted to six years in 2010, when there was no salary cap because owners already had declared they were opting out of the old CBA.
On rookie salaries, four people familiar with the talks said Thursday that first-round draft picks will sign four-year contracts with a club option for a fifth year. That represents a compromise; owners were hoping for five-year contracts, while players wanted highly drafted rookies to be under a team’s control for only four years.
NFL owners have long sought to restrict the huge bonuses and salaries paid to unproven rookies, particularly those selected at the top of the draft. Quarterback Sam Bradford, taken No. 1 overall in 2010 by the St. Louis Rams, signed a six-year, $78 million contract that included a record $50 million in guaranteed money.
Under the system discussed Thursday, people told the AP, clubs will have an option for a fifth year on a rookie’s contract for a predetermined amount based on the player’s performance during the previous years of the deal.
This week’s talks in New York began Monday with two days of meetings involving primarily lawyers. Wednesday’s face-to-face session that was attended by Goodell, Smith, owners and players went nearly 11 hours.
On Thursday, Goodell was joined by eight of the 10 members of the owners’ labor committee, including Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and John Mara of the Giants. Two new participants Thursday were Green Bay Packers CEO Mark Murphy and San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos.
Smith’s group included Foxworth, Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday, and Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. Umenyiora is one of the 10 named plaintiffs in the antitrust case against the league.
Will the deal get done before Monday? Sound off in the comments below…
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