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Almost time to play football again

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, left, and National Football

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, left, and National Football League Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, right, speak to the media outside of the Ritz-Carlton hotel after addressing players during the NFLPA rookie. (June 29, 2011) Credit: AP

In what could be the final breakthrough needed for a new collective bargaining agreement and the go-ahead for NFL football, negotiators for the league and the players are close to an agreement on a new system governing rookie contracts. The issue of rookie deals had been considered the last major hurdle to clear for a new CBA. 

“We can see [agreement on rookie contracts] from here,” a person who is directly involved in the talks told Newsday Thursday night. “Not there just yet.” 

But the parameters of the rookie deal appear to be complete, including the ability of rookie players at the top end of the draft to sign four-year deals that include an option for a fifth year. 

The league has locked out players the last 121 days, but after a productive day of negotiations yesterday in New York, officials on both sides of the negotiating table indicated yesterday that a CBA is within reach. A deal could be announced within the next few days, perhaps even as early as today, although there could be some technical issues to be resolved before an agreement is made official. 

“I would have said no [about an agreement on Wednesday], but now it may be possible,” said a person who has been briefed on the negotiations. 

All but two of the NFL’s 12-owner negotiating team were on hand for yesterday’s talks, which lasted into the evening. 

“We have not had this many owners in one spot for labor talks since March 11,” said a person involved in the talks, a reference to the date when talks in Washington, D.C. broke down and led to the start of the lockout the next day. 

There is still the issue of settling antitrust litigation filed by several high-profile players, including quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. As part of the CBA, there would have to be a settlement approved by District Court Judge Susan Nelson. The two sides are set to meet next Tuesday with U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, who was appointed by Nelson to act as a mediator. Boylan has told both sides to be prepared for full settlement discussions. 

The hope among owners is that they can bring a deal for a vote by all 32 teams next Thursday in Atlanta. The NFL Management Council’s Executive Committee has a regularly scheduled meeting today in New York, at which an update on the negotiations will be provided. At least 24 of the league’s 32 owners must approve a deal, and the players must reform its union to hold a vote. The NFL Players Association decertified as a union on March 11, and then filed the antitrust suit against the league. 

A potential holdup may involve a timing issue associated with the settlement. A source source familiar with the situation told Newsday player representatives are asking that the deal be termed a “class action settlement” before the NFLPA declares itself a union again. After that, the deal would become a collective bargaining agreement. 

The thinking behind calling it a class action settlement is that it would show players that the litigation strategy helped led to a better deal than if the players had continued negotiations and not sued the league.

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