NFL: Players approve deal to end NFL lockout

AP, Washington

Wed, Jul 27, 2011 - Page 20

The NFL Players Association (NFLPLA) executive board and 32 team reps voted unanimously on Monday to approve the terms of a deal with owners to the end the four-and-a-half month lockout.

Owners overwhelmingly approved a proposal last week, but some unresolved issues still needed to be reviewed to satisfy players — the owners do not need to vote again.

The sides worked through the weekend and wrapped up the details on Monday morning on a final pact that is for 10 years, without an opt-out clause, a person familiar with the deal said on condition of anonymity.

Owners decided in 2008 to opt out of the league’s old labor contract, which expired on March 11. That is when the owners locked out the players, creating the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987.

NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith stepped outside of the group’s headquarters in Washington at about 2pm to announce that players approved the pact.

“I know it has been a very long process since the day we stood here that night in March, but our guys stood together when nobody thought we would and football is back because of it,” Smith said.

As he spoke, Smith was flanked by NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday and Baltimore Ravens defensive back Domonique Foxworth, key members of the players’ negotiating team. Brees is one of 10 plaintiffs in the antitrust lawsuit that players filed against the league.

Moments later, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walked into the building, joined by owners Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots, John Mara of the New York Giants and Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers.

“I believe it’s important that we talk about the future of football as a partnership,” Smith said.

A tentative timeline was to allow NFL clubs to start signing this year’s draft picks and rookie free agents yesterday. Conversations with veteran free agents were also to have begun yesterday and their signings could begin Friday.

Under the proposed schedule, training camps would open for 10 of the 32 teams today, 10 more tomorrow, another 10 on Friday and the final two teams on Sunday.

Both sides set up informational conference calls on Monday afternoon to go over the details of the agreement. The NFLPA told player agents they would be coached in particular on the guidelines and schedule for signing free agents and rookies; the NFL alerted general managers and coaches they would be briefed in separate calls.