NFL owners approve deal, but players balk

Posted: July 21, 2011

ATLANTA - NFL owners voted to approve a new labor deal Thursday night, leaving the fate of the ongoing lockout in the players' hands.

The owners' vote raised the prospect of players returning to team facilities as early as Saturday and trades beginning Wednesday. But it all hinged on players approving the deal, too, and indications Thursday night were that they would not do so - at least not right away.

NFL owners voted, 31-0, with the Oakland Raiders abstaining, to approve the proposed labor agreement.

The lockout won't end, though, until players also ratify the proposal, and they cast significant doubt on the plan.

"There is no agreement between the NFL and the players at this time," NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a letter to players.

If the players do not vote or turn the deal down, the negotiations will continue, and all dates for resuming NFL business move back a day for each day between Thursday and the deal getting final approval.

"The key to getting this done was compromise," Eagles owners Jeffrey Lurie said. "The tendency was always, I think, to compromise, realize you don't have all the answers. The players don't have all the answers."

Lurie and Eagles president Joe Banner stressed the stability that would be brought by the 10-year plan, which includes no opt-out. They said it would allow owners to invest in the game and benefit both sides.

"We've completed a deal that we believe both sides will affirm is something that works well enough to get back to playing football without missing any games," Banner said.

Under the owners' plan, teams can then sign their own free agents on Saturday and extend contracts to undrafted rookie free agents. Free agency would open at noon on Wednesday, and teams would also be permitted to make trades.

Players can begin reporting to facilities Saturday for voluntary conditioning, training and classroom instruction, and training camp rosters will increase to 90, up from 80.

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

Lurie said that training camp will be at Lehigh University. It would begin July 27, 28 or 29, Banner said, but the team had not set a specific date. Those dates also depend on the players ratifying the deal.

Lurie said the deal was worth the time and strife it took to reach it.

"What's really great about this is in sports you just don't see 10-year collective bargaining agreements," Lurie said. "It's so important with the NFL, at thus far it's peak of popularity, to be able to say you're now stabilizing the sport for the next 10 years labor wise, and it gives you all the opportunity in the world to do what's best for the sport, the fans and what we're all in it for."

"I can't say we got everything we wanted to get in the deal," New York Giants owner John Mara said. "I'm sure [players] would say the same thing. . . . The best thing about it is our fans don't have to hear about labor-management relations for another 10 years."

"These things, by their very nature, aren't supposed to make you necessarily happy when you walk out the door. It was a negotiation," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "I don't mean to sound negative, but it isn't exactly like Christmas has come along here."

The Eagles' first order may be to deal backup quarterback Kevin Kolb, likely to the Arizona Cardinals, nearly as soon as free agency and trades are allowed.

"We do know there's a lot of interest. So, we'll see if the interest is what we think it is," Lurie said of Kolb. "It's not our intention to delay; we want to be decisive and move forward and see what's best for the Eagles."

Teams will be permitted to start training camp on Wednesday.

Goodell also announced that the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, scheduled to be played on Aug. 7, was canceled.

The Eagles' first preseason game is set for August 11 and could be unaffected by the months-long lockout, which began March 12.

The deal gives NFL owners a larger share of league revenue, their main goal when they opted out of the last collective bargaining agreement, but not as much as they originally sought. The players' take will drop to around 46 to 48 percent of league revenue, down from roughly 50 percent.

Growth of the salary cap - which determines total player pay - will slow, though some teams will be forced to spend significantly more to meet an elevated salary floor.

Top draft picks, whose massive contracts often paid them more than established veterans before they ever played a single professional game, will take one of the biggest hits. Compensation for players taken early in the first round will be restructured to drastically reduce their pay. Quarterback Cam Newton, the top pick in April's draft, could make roughly half of what last year's number one selection got.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, or @JonathanTamari on Twitter.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.


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