ATLANTA—As word leaked out that the NFL owners had voted 31-0 on their proposal for a settlement of legal issues and the terms of a new CBA last night, rumors that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith had been on the phone during a prolonged (and unplanned) dinner break by the owners seemed to suggest that there was an agreement in principle in place.
As we found out not more than 15 minutes after the NFL’s press conference at the Atlanta Gateway Marriott announcing their vote and going over the particulars of the league’s proposal, the howls of protest via social media by players and leaking of two NFLPA emails from Smith and NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen seemed to suggest that the players were blindsided by the owners.
It should have been clear (but wasn’t at the time) that the men lined up behind Goodell during the press conference — NFL Executive VP of Labor/League Counsel Jeff Pash, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, New York Giants owner John Mara, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II and Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt — never once smiled, even wearily, as the months of negotiations were at an end.
They knew what we were finding out. The road to ratification is filled with bumps that could still derail the process. It’s easy (in some respects) to get 32 people to agree to a proposal (the supplemental revenue sharing deal brokered during the day between the owners was a bigger story that got lost in the later events). It’s harder to get 1,900 people to share one vision, especially when there are competing personal interests inside the group.
No one likes being backed into a corner, and players who are hyper-competitive by nature, couldn’t contain their reactions on social media, giving fans and media a real-time look into how negotiations are dissected by those directly affected by the proposed terms.
Both sides get a timeout for part of the day on Friday as the NFL owners and key staff travel to New England for the funeral service for Myra Kraft, the wife of Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, this morning. News will be scarce for a bit out of respect, but the cycle should pick back up this afternoon.
Today could bring closure with a players’ vote and negotiations on the final sticking points, or we could have more confusion as players force Smith to take a step back and re-form consensus before approving the deal offered by the owners. No one really knows how this will fall out today (although ESPN is reporting Friday that the players will likely not today, according to Chris Mortenson).
The players released a statement Friday from NFLPA President Kevin Mawae:
Player leadership is discussing the most recent written proposal with the NFL, which includes a settlement agreement, deal terms and the right process for addressing recertification. There will not be any further NFLPA statements today out of respect for the Kraft family while they mourn the loss of Myra Kraft.
Key issues are an early opt-out from the agreement (NFL says it is a full 10-year deal with no opt-outs; NFLPA reportedly wants an opt-out clause with a penalty after seven years) and the recertification of the NFLPA as an union (various points of contention).
What we do know is that the owners have put the resumption of football (as well as the public perception of that) back in the players’ lap. The expectation left hanging in the air last night that there was a deal between the sides, even as the NFL was careful to say that it still took ratification from the NFLPA Executive Board.
The hot potato has been passed to Smith and the players, and we’ll find out soon if either side drops it.
Here is clarity and perspective on what Thursday meant and what the next few days might bring:
Labor agreement remains in limbo (Peter King, SI.com; 7/22/11)
After tumultuous Thursday, labor talks headed for wild weekend (Don Banks, SI.com; 7/22/11)
Owners pressure players to deal (John Clayton, ESPN.com; 7/21/11)
We have a (proposed) deal (Andrew Brandt, NationalFootballPost.com; 7/21/11)
Players scoff at trumpeting of labor ‘agreement’ (Jason Cole, Yahoo! Sports; 7/21/11)
NFL owners try to pull a fast one on players (Bryan Burwell, St. Louis Post-Dispatch; 7/22/11)
NFL owners vote for tentative labor deal (Judy Battista, New York Times; 7/21/11)
NFL players mull owners’ proposed CBA (AJ Perez, FOXSports.com; 7/22/11)
Welcome to the dog days of dizzying NFL drama (Lisa Olson; AOL/Sporting News; 7/22/11)
Players don’t vote on CBA, rip ‘gamesmanship’ of owners (Mike Freeman, CBSSports.com; 7/21/11)
Players, fans aren’t as idiotic as owners think they are (Ray Ratto, CBSSports.com; 7/21/11)
Players delay vote on owners’ proposal to end lockout (Eric Edholm, ProFootballWeekly.com; 7/21/11)