NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – It seems an agreement that would end the NFL lockout is getting close.
Lawyers for the NFL Players Association and the league are meeting at a Manhattan law firm to try to work out a labor deal.
The court-appointed mediator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, is expected to arrive in New York City later Monday to oversee talks aimed at ending the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987.
Boylan originally had ordered representatives of the league’s owners and players to meet with him Tuesday in Minneapolis.
The owners have a special meeting set for Thursday in Atlanta, where they potentially could ratify a new deal — if one is reached by then. Any agreement also must be voted on by groups of players, including the named plaintiffs in a federal antitrust suit against the league, and the NFL Players Association’s 32 team representatives.
More than four months into the lockout, owners and players have made significant progress on the framework of an agreement. But re-establishing the union and figuring out what it will take for nine NFL players — including star quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees — to settle that antitrust suit are among key issues blocking a deal to end the lockout, people familiar with the negotiations told the AP on condition of anonymity.
The unresolved matters also include how the TV networks case, in which the players accused the owners of setting up “lockout insurance,” will be settled.
Among the parts mostly squared away following significant progress last week:
— how the more than $9 billion in annual league revenues will be divided;
— a rookie salary system;
— free agency rules;
— a cap of about $120 million for player salaries in 2011, with about another $20 million in benefits.
The lockout began March 12, when negotiations broke down and the old collective bargaining agreement expired. The NFLPA announced it was dissolving itself and would no longer be a union that could bargain for all players under labor law, instead saying it was now a trade association. That allowed players to take their chances against the NFL in federal court under antitrust law.
There is a possibility that the sides will be able to put together a tentative agreement in principle in time to keep the preseason completely intact. The exhibition opener is scheduled to be the Hall of Fame game between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears on Aug. 7, and as of Sunday, no preseason games had been canceled.
Members of the legal and financial teams for the two groups met in New York on Saturday, while NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith spoke with each other. The larger negotiating teams that gathered for more than 30 hours of intensive face-to-face talks spread across Wednesday through Friday — including owners and current or former players — did not meet Saturday.
Among the parts of the deal that people familiar with the negotiations told the AP are largely in place:
— The players’ portion of the league’s full annual revenues will be on a sliding scale with a floor of 46.5 percent and a ceiling of 48.5 percent. There no longer will be the old formula, under which owners got a cut off the top for various operating expenses before revenues were divided.
The new percentages represent a decrease for players, because they were winding up with a higher percentage under the old contract, which is among the main reasons spurring owners to opt out of that deal. According to NFLPA figures, the players got 52.7 percent of all league revenues in 2006, 51.8 percent in 2007, 51 percent in 2008, and 50.6 percent in 2009. There was no salary cap in 2010. As far back as 2000, meanwhile, the players’ take was 56.5 percent of all revenue.
The players are still hoping, though, to get a commitment from owners that each team will spend a minimum amount of the cap.
— Most players will be able to become unrestricted free agents after four years in the league, and the owners’ hope for being able to get a right of first refusal on three players per team in 2011 was dropped.
— First-round draft picks will sign four-year deals, with a club option for the fifth year. The new rookie salary system will help curtail first-year players’ soaring salaries, with much of that money going to veterans.
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