WASHINGTON - If you were hoping for a quick and simple end to the NFL lockout that started back on March 12, based on reports that the sides had agreed on all the important points, well, no such luck.
The spotlight moves on to Atlanta today, where owners are meeting, and where NFL general counsel Jeff Pash told reporters yesterday he still hopes the league will have an agreement voted on by players and owners by the end of the day.
The NFLPA began damping down expectations almost as soon as the media cavalcade formed in front of the association's 20th Street headquarters yesterday morning, in anticipation of a possible vote of player reps on a new CBA. NFLPA president Kevin Mawae declared that only the membership could vote to accept the terms, that the player reps were not there to give final approval, and he cautioned that the players were not going to be stampeded into approving a deal by today, just because that's what the league wants.
"Our goal today is to see what's on the table, discuss outlying issues that may or may not be there, but make no mistake about it, players are not in a rush - we're not tied to the timeline of July 21st," Mawae said. "Our timeline is that which gives us the deal that's the best deal for our players, be it today or tomorrow or whenever it may be. We want to go back to work, but we're not going to agree to any deal unless it's the right deal for all the players."
Sure enough, as the day wore on, reports filtered out that the reps ultimately had just voted to send the proposed settlement on to the plaintiffs in the antitrust suits filed against the league, with the understanding that problems would have to be resolved and the plaintiffs would have to sign off before the membership votes on the CBA.
"Our main plaintiffs have to agree to whatever settlement we come up with," Mawae said. "At the end of the day, the deal we're working on is the best for all the players in the NFL, and not just four guys."
By the end of the day, it seemed the rules and procedures that will guide the league's path for the next decade were all fine with the players, or at least with their team reps. But there is the suit over the owners' TV "lockout insurance," and the suit by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and others, and somewhere in there is the $320 million the players lost when the free-agency rules were changed for last season, after the owners opted out of the previous CBA early. Yesterday's message is that the deal isn't done until the players are satisfied with the resolution of those details.
Is anybody really willing to try to drive this process off the cliff here in late July, when the sides have come so far toward saving the season? Probably not. It seemed significant that after Mawae's cautionary morning remarks, nobody from the PA later came out to face the cameras and threaten armageddon. Instead, reporters squeezed snippets from the reps as they left, singly or in small groups, through a service entrance in an alley behind the building, which quickly reached its capacity for parked black SUVs and limos.
Tyson Clabo of the Falcons offered only, "We've got a lot of work to do."
Tony Richardson of the Jets expanded on that: "We've got a lot more work to do, but we're still hashing it out."
Eagles player rep Winston Justice: "We spent all day looking over information and discussing different possible outcomes. And there is still negotiating to do."
Pash offered the possibility that owners could vote to ratify the deal today, without any action by the players. That would punt the ball back into the players' end of the field, make them the guys the public would perceive to be holding up football, regardless of the merits of their claims on the unresolved issues. Indeed, the Eagles sent the kind of contingent to Atlanta yesterday that would only be formed on the eve of a deal. Management might be ready to more or less declare the lockout over.
Pash said the NFL labor committee, which met yesterday in Atlanta, was in contact with the NFLPA throughout the day, with legal teams continuing to talk into the evening.
Even a delay of a few more days at this point - which is probably all we're talking about - could jeopardize the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame preseason game between the Rams and Bears. The Eagles are scheduled to open their preseason at home against the Ravens on Aug. 11.
"We've been talking about what a calendar would look like for resuming: when players would come in, when the new league year would open and when free agency would start," Pash said. "Obviously, all of that is going to depend on what schedule there is for ratifying the agreement, and making sure that all of the steps that have to take place before the new league year can begin have in fact occurred."
The Eagles confirmed that Andy Reid has scheduled a meeting of his coaches for Saturday, as he traditionally does in preparation for training camp.
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