WASHINGTON (AP) — Now it’s NFL owners who are in place to vote to end the four-month lockout.
The players passed on any vote Wednesday, even though representatives of each of the 32 teams and the NFL Players Association’s executive committee were in Washington for that purpose. A person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press there was agreement among those players on what items needed to be resolved before any overall offer would be accepted.
A second person, also speaking on condition of anonymity because the talks are supposed to be secret, said those players gave what was termed “conditional approval” of the proposal — as it stood Wednesday.
And the league said both sides would work through the night to try to have a final agreement ready for ratification Thursday, when the owners will have a special labor meeting in Atlanta. The deal is expected to last 10 years, although even that wasn’t 100 percent certain Wednesday night.
“It’s obviously a complicated agreement, but I think both sides are at the point where they can close, they should close, and we should be in a position to take votes,” NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, the owners’ lead negotiator, said following a five-hour session at a hotel near Atlanta’s airport.
But the players didn’t get that far during nearly 10 hours of meetings in Washington.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Pro Bowl offensive lineman Tyson Clabo, who played for the Atlanta Falcons last season.
Even after all acceptable terms are established, it only would lead to a collective bargaining agreement if the team reps recommend re-establishing the NFLPA as a union, which must be approved by a majority vote of the 1,900 players. Those votes probably would be done on a conference call.
In March, when talks broke down and the old CBA expired, the NFLPA said it was dissolving itself as a union and instead becoming a trade association, a move that allowed Tom Brady and other players to sue the league under antitrust law. Only a union can sign off on a CBA.
Remaining issues are believed to include how to set aside three pending court cases: The players’ antitrust lawsuit against the NFL in federal court in Minnesota; the TV networks case, in which players accused owners of setting up $4 billion in “lockout insurance,” money that the league would receive even if there were no games played in 2011; and a collusion case, in which players said owners conspired to restrict salaries last offseason.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell joined the Atlanta meeting of nine of the 10 members of the labor committee, which hoped to recommend a finalized proposal to all club owners when they gather Thursday. Asked whether owners would consider approving an agreement Thursday, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson smiled and said: “I’m always ready for a vote.”
For passage of a new agreement, at least 24 owners must vote yes.
“I think that’s the healthy outcome: to have a complete, comprehensive, global agreement that settles all the disputes and puts us on a path where we are going forward together as business partners, the way it should be, rather that going forward with one hand and fighting over something that should be in the past,” Pash said.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is on the labor committee, wasn’t expected to participate because his wife, Myra, died Wednesday, at age 68, after a battle with cancer.
Earlier Wednesday, NFLPA president Kevin Mawae cautioned not to assume the lockout will be over by the weekend, saying that his group was “not tied” to a deadline for getting a deal done.
“We want to go back to work, but we will not agree to a deal unless it’s the best deal for the players,” Mawae said. “The players are not tied to a July 21 timeline. Our timeline is that which gives us the best deal for the players — today, tomorrow or whatever it might be.”
If the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987 is going to end in time to keep the preseason completely intact, the players and owners almost certainly must ratify the deal by Thursday. The St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears are scheduled to open the preseason Aug. 7 in the Hall of Fame game.
Asked whether that exhibition game will be played, Pash replied: “We’ll see. It’s getting tight. It would be pretty challenging. That’s one of the things we’ll have to focus on.”
If a new deal is worked out and ratified, the 32 teams won’t be done in Atlanta. Team executives would be schooled later Thursday and Friday in the guidelines and how to apply them; topics would include the 2011 NFL calendar, rookie salary system and new free agency rules.
Ten players — including quarterbacks Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson and Patriots guard Logan Mankins — filed their antitrust suit March 11. That was the day the country’s most popular sports league was thrown into limbo, and the owners locked out players hours later.
“Obviously, there’s the litigation with the named plaintiffs, and I am not familiar with the whole legal part of it. … But at the end of the day,” Mawae said, “the deal we are working on is the deal that’s best for all the players in the NFL, and not just four guys.”
AP National Writer Paul Newberry and AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in College Park, Ga., contributed to this to report.
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