Owners ratify labor deal, set Saturday launch; players wait on vote
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The NFL is ready for some football. The players aren't sure just yet.
Owners ratified a 10-year labor agreement and litigation settlement on Thursday that, pending ratification and certification by the NFL Players Association, would end the more than four-month-old lockout and reopen team facilities to players on Saturday.
But player representatives did not vote as expected in an early-evening conference call, and both players and union leadership expressed surprise, confusion and anger about what they perceived as the owners' power play.
"As you know the Owners have ratified their proposal to settle our differences," NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told players in an e-mail obtained by multiple media outlets. "It is my understanding they are forwarding it to us. As you may have heard, they apparently approved a supplemental revenue sharing proposal. Obviously, we have not been a part of those discussions.
"As you know from (Wednesday), issues that need to be collectively bargained remain open other issues such as workers compensation, economic issues and end of deal terms remain unresolved. There is no agreement between the NFL and the Players at this time."
Shortly after the players' conference call wrapped, ESPN reported a vote could come as soon as Friday, if details can be finalized. But that remained anything but a certainty.
SI.com reported another e-mail to players from NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen suggested the NFL might be in violation of federal labor laws for trying to coerce players into reconstituting as a union.
Commissioner Roger Goodell was forceful with his message in a media session shortly after owners voted in Atlanta.
"There's an urgency to this," Goodell said. "We want to have a full 2011 season. That includes the four preseason games, and we're up against wall."
But several players took to Twitter to express their frustration.
"Here is what the 'Real' fans need 2 know," New Orleans Saints fullback Heath Evans wrote. "The owners tried (to) slip many things (into) the CBA 'they' voted on that were NEVER agreed (to)!"
Jeff Pash, the league's chief negotiator, said there are no opt-outs in the agreement, which would run through the 2020 season. The league also approved a supplemental revenue sharing program, a version of which has benefited the Minnesota Vikings and other lower-revenue teams for years.
NFL Network reported owners ratified the agreement by a 31-0 vote, with the Oakland Raiders abstaining. Key points included an entry-level compensation system, a salary cap of $120.375 million in 2011, reductions in offseason workouts and players receiving at least 47% of all revenue.
"I think we've crafted a long-term agreement that can be good for the game of football," Goodell said.
Under terms of the agreement, players would be allowed to begin workouts at team facilities on Saturday, if the NFLPA Executive Board approves terms of the settlement.
The "exclusive" window for teams to renegotiate with its own free agents also would begin on Saturday, although teams also would be allowed to negotiate with other teams' free agents and franchise players and undrafted rookies -- a major change from past years.
The undrafted free agent signing period would begin at 1 p.m. Sunday. Once the NFLPA would reconstitute itself as a union, the new league year and full free-agent signing period would begin at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Training camps also could open on Wednesday, although the first day would be limited to physicals, meetings and conditioning and no pads would be permitted on Days 2 or 3.
The Vikings haven't planned to have players report until Sunday, July 31, with the first practice scheduled for the morning of Aug. 1.
Camp rosters would be expanded to 90 players. Goodell announced the annual Hall of Fame Game has been canceled, but the rest of the preseason remains on track to start on time. As part of transition rules for the 2011 league year only, certain tender deadlines were pushed back.
Here's the full timeline, all of which is according to the NFL and contingent upon players ratifying the agreement before the specificed dates (all times adjusted to Central):
Saturday, July 23
• Voluntary training, conditioning and classroom instruction permitted until first day of clubs' preseason training camps.
• Pre-2011 League Year Period commences. 2011 Free Agency List to be issued and will become effective on the first day of the 2011 League Year (July 27). Clubs/players may begin to renegotiate contracts. Clubs may begin to sign Drafted Rookies and their own UFAs, RFAs, Exclusive Rights Players and Franchise Players.
• Waivers begin for the 2011 League Year.
• Starting at 1 p.m., clubs may negotiate with, but not sign, Undrafted Rookie Free Agents, free agents, and other clubs' UFAs, RFAs, and Franchise Players.
Sunday, July 24
• Starting at 1 p.m., clubs may begin to sign undrafted rookie free agents.
Wednesday, July 27
• League Year commences at 1 p.m., provided NFLPA has ratified CBA. Free Agency Signing Period begins. Clubs may sign free agents and other clubs' Unrestricted Free Agents. Clubs may sign Offer Sheets. Trading period begins. All Clubs must be under the Salary Cap. Top 51 rule applies.
• Expand rosters to 90-man limit.
• Training Camps open for all clubs, provided NFLPA has ratified CBA. Day One activities limited to physicals, meetings, and conditioning. No pads permitted on Day Two or Day Three.
Tuesday, Aug. 9
• Deadline for players under contract to report to their clubs to earn an Accrued Season for free agency.
Friday, Aug. 12
• Deadline for signing of Offer Sheets by Restricted Free Agents. (17-day period concludes)
• Deadline for June 1 Tender to Unrestricted Free Agents. If the player has not signed a Player Contract with a Club by August 26, he may negotiate or sign a Player Contract from August 26 until the Tuesday following the tenth week of the regular season, at 4:00 PM ET, only with his Prior Club.
• Deadline: if a Drafted Rookie has not signed a Player Contract by this date, he cannot be traded during his initial League Year and may sign a Player Contract only with the drafting Club until the day of the Draft in the next League Year.
Saturday, Aug. 13
• Vikings open preseason at Tennessee (First Preseason Weekend Aug. 11 to 15)
Saturday, Aug. 13 to Wednesday, Aug. 17
• Each Club has until five days prior to its second preseason game to provide any tendered but unsigned Exclusive Rights Player or Restricted Free Agent with written notice of the Club's intent to place the player on the Exempt List if the player fails to report at least the day before the Club's second preseason game.
Tuesday, Aug. 16
• Deadline for Prior Club to exercise Right of First Refusal to Restricted Free Agents. (Four-day matching period concludes)
Wednesday, Aug. 17
• Deadline for June 1 Tender to Restricted Free Agents who have received a Qualifying Offer for a Right of First Refusal Only.
Friday, Aug. 26
• Signing Period ends for Unrestricted Free Agents who received the June 1 Tender.
Monday, Aug. 29
• Deadline for June 15 Tender to Restricted Free Agents. If player's Qualifying Offer is greater than 110% of the player's prior year's Paragraph 5 Salary (with all other terms of his prior year contract carried forward unchanged), the Club may withdraw the Qualifying Offer on August 29 and retain its exclusive negotiating rights to the player, so long as the Club immediately tenders the player a one-year Player Contract of at least 110% of his prior year's Paragraph 5 Salary, with all the terms of his prior year's contract carried forward unchanged.
Tuesday, Aug. 30
• Clubs reduce rosters from 90 players to 75 players.
Saturday, Sept. 3
• Clubs reduce rosters to 53 players.
Thursday, Sept. 8
• NFL season opener: New Orleans at Green Bay, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 11
• Vikings' season opener at San Diego, 3:15 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 20
• Deadline at 3 p.m. for any Club that designated a Franchise Player to sign such player to a multi-year contract or extension.