With NFL lockout over, players and owners eager to get back to business

Now they can laugh about it: NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith (left) and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell share a joke outside the union's headquarters in Washington after team representatives unanimously recommended a labor settlement.
Now they can laugh about it: NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith (left) and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell share a joke outside the union's headquarters in Washington after team representatives unanimously recommended a labor settlement. (CLIFF OWEN / Associated Press)
Posted: July 26, 2011

WASHINGTON - After months of inactivity, the NFL is coming back.

The league will return to life with a frenzy of free-agent signings and trades this week after player leaders cast key votes Monday to advance a labor settlement.

"It's Showtime," Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel wrote on Twitter.

On Tuesday, Eagles players can begin reporting to the team's NovaCare Complex, and all NFL teams can begin making trades - meaning Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb could be on his way to a new team by 10 a.m. Teams will also begin signing rookies Tuesday and talking to veteran free agents, though they can't complete deals with veterans until Friday. On Wednesday, the Eagles will report to Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., their traditional training grounds, to prepare for their first preseason game, on Aug. 11.

Those familiar rituals were made possible by votes Monday by top representatives of the NFL Players Association, who unanimously recommended a labor settlement with the league and recertification of the players' union. Owners had approved the settlement Thursday. While some details still have to be worked out - the players must actually re-form their union, negotiate some final points and hold a full vote to ratify the new collective-bargaining agreement - those are expected to go relatively smoothly. The action Monday essentially cleared the way to put in place a new deal and end the lockout that, with the exception of April's draft, has frozen the league since March 12.

"It's a long time coming, and football's back, and that's the great news for everybody," said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell spoke outside the players association's headquarters in Washington, standing next to DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA executive director who often opposed him in public squabbles.

"Our players couldn't be more excited than going back and doing the thing that they love the most," said NFLPA president Kevin Mawae. "We always, through this process, said that we would do a deal when it's right and when it's the right deal, and our players did that."

In one touching moment, Colts center Jeff Saturday, one of the players' leading representatives, wrapped an arm around Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is mourning his wife and was praised as a key figure in bridging the gaps between the sides.

"We're excited about the opportunity to get back on the field and instead of being in these meeting rooms, being in football meeting rooms," Saturday said.

The Eagles released a statement from owner Jeffrey Lurie: "I want to thank our fans for their patience. Now we can get back to football - and that's what we are all really looking forward to."

Both sides said the 10-year deal, with no opt-out clause, will be good for the sport.

The coming week will provide an unprecedented rush of activity, with trades, free agent signings and training camp openings all overlapping.

"The best word for it is chaos," said Tony Richardson, a member of the NFLPA executive committee and a free-agent fullback who will have to find a job in the busy market.

Coaches have not worked with their players since March, and some have new figures in key positions. The Eagles have a new defensive coordinator, offensive line coach and defensive line coach.

"We understand that we have a lot of work ahead of us in order to get ready for the season opener at St. Louis, and I'm excited to get started on that as soon as we can," Eagles coach Andy Reid said in a statement. The team's first game is Sept. 11.

The Eagles are expected to quickly trade Kolb and be aggressive in free agency.

Players who have had to rehabilitate injuries, such as Eagles safety Nate Allen and defensive end Brandon Graham, could begin reporting back to team facilities for physicals on Tuesday.

Monday's vote marks one of the final steps in a labor drama that began heating up in 2008, when owners opted out of the NFL's last labor deal, and reached a boiling point in March when owners locked out players and players brought an antitrust suit against owners. Despite a series of court battles and sometimes acrimonious sniping through the media, the sides sealed a deal in time to save all but one game on their preseason and regular-season schedule. The Hall of Fame game on Aug. 7 was canceled.

Owners won a larger share of league revenue - players will receive an average 47 percent of league revenue over the course of the deal, down from around 50 percent in the last collective-bargaining agreement. But teams will have to spend to a higher salary floor.

The highest picks in the draft will receive significantly less pay in their rookie deals. The season will remain at 16 regular-season games, at least through 2013. Practice schedules will be eased, and players will receive greater financial protection in case of injuries.

Additional money will also go to retired players. The league won a break from federal court oversight of the collective-bargaining agreement, a key point for owners.

While players and owners still have to work out some of the final pieces of the collective-bargaining agreement, which can only be finalized after the union recertifies, those details will quickly fade into the background, drowned out by actual football activity.

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


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