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Owners appear close to approval

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Bob Glauber
July 21, 2011
— NFL owners are gathered at an airport hotel here for what they hope will be the ratification of a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with the players that would end a lockout that has lasted more than four months.

But it’s coming down to the wire, as player representatives meeting in Washington on Wednesday held off on approving the CBA in hopes of negotiating better settlement terms. The players voted to conditionally approve resolving an antitrust lawsuit brought against the league, but only if the NFL amends the deal to include potentially millions more dollars that would go to the players.


NFL outside counsel Jeff Pash, speaking Wednesday night after a nearly five-hour meeting with the league’s labor committee, acknowledged that further negotiations were needed to reach an agreement.


“We’re going to continue to work with the players,” Pash said. “We’ll find out if there are issues that still need to be negotiated, and we’ll work cooperatively with them through the evening and try to have something in place that both sides can vote on morning.”


Owners have scheduled a 9 a.m. CDT meeting, at which they will be briefed on terms of the CBA, as well as settlements of the antitrust suit brought by 10 players and a case in which the league was found to have violated the CBA by negotiating $4 billion in television network contracts to essentially build a lockout war chest.


The owners had hoped to have the players vote in favor of all the settlement terms—including the CBA—before voting on the deal. However, Pash said it was possible the owners could vote even if the players did not. A vote in favor of the deal by the owners without a vote by the players could place a good deal of public pressure on the players. Even so, the owners want to avoid any turmoil that could potentially scuttle a deal, according to people familiar with the talks.


Player representatives didn’t seem concerned about any public backlash; they were more concerned with working out the remaining issues. According to a player source involved in the negotiations, the players want the owners to return $320 million in benefits that were not paid by the league last year. The withholding of benefits was part of the previous CBA, but players still want the money returned.


Additionally, players want to see better settlement terms regarding the ruling by District Court Judge David S. Doty that found the league in violation of the CBA on the television contracts. Players also want the league to agree not to place the franchise tag on players more than once. A franchise designation allows teams to retain contract rights to a player for a year by making it prohibitively expensive for other teams to sign the player. Currently, teams can apply the franchise tag three times to a player.


“Hold on,” the player source said about the remaining issues. “It might be a bit bumpy.”


When asked to describe his level of optimism that a deal could be worked out today, Pash said, “It’s cautious, but I think we’re making progress.” Pash said he was “cautiously optimistic” a deal could be struck today.


“I think we’re making progress,” he said. “We’ve worked well together over the past several weeks. It’s obviously a complicated agreement, but I think both sides are at the point where they can close, they should close, and we should be in a position to take votes.”


Player representatives meeting in Washington were briefed on the status of negotiations at the NFLPA offices, with some reps participating via conference call.


“There was a lot of stuff to go over,” a person briefed on the talks said. “Everyone needed to get up to speed. It’s a very complicated process.”


Too complicated to bring the matter to a vote today?


Stay tuned. Suddenly, the 11th hour is very, very interesting.



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