FOX Sports Exclusive
Falcons' Blank thinks deal will get done
Falcons owner Arthur Blank isn't sweating the NFL's labor situation.
Blank said he is "optimistic" the NFL Players Association will accept terms of a new collective-bargaining agreement on Thursday that would end the league's 128-day lockout.
During a meeting break at roughly 6:20 p.m. ET, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said that he hoped to have some “good news” shortly.
“Hopefully in the next hour-and-a-half or so we’ll have something done and see where we’re at,” Irsay said. “It’s never done until it’s done but it’s moving in that direction. It takes time, though. There are a lot of details going through to make sure. When we started (meeting) at 10 a.m., I always felt it would probably be something that would go into the evening.”
Earlier, Blank also said he expected a "great majority" of teams would approve the deal should the NFL conduct a vote, as expected, Thursday at a league meeting in Georgia.
"The commissioner is very positive, and I think the owners are very positive," Blank said Thursday morning before entering the meeting. "We're looking forward to a deal that will end this lockout and get to football, which is what America, the owners and players want."
The owners had been told to expect to vote on the CBA between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET Thursday. That vote did not come as planned, and general managers — who were initially instructed to gather Thursday night at a separate airport hotel to discuss free-agency procedures — were told their detailed labor symposium is now on hold.
Meanwhile, the NFLPA has scheduled a conference call among its player representatives for 8 p.m. ET Thursday for a possible vote that would clear the CBA’s passage on their end.
“Honestly, I think we are close to a deal,” a source told FOXSports.com.
At this point, uncertainty is the only thing either side has in common.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA, cautioned reporters outside the union’s headquarters in Washington, DC, that several pieces needed to be put in place before a deal to end the lockout would be complete.
“We continue to talk,” said Smith, who took no questions from reporters perched outside in near-100-degree heat Thursday afternoon. “There are some issues outstanding that are left to resolve.”
CBSSports.com reported that two plaintiffs -- New England guard Logan Mankins and San Diego wide receiver Vincent Jackson -- want $10 million each as compensation for withdrawing their names from the players' class-action suit Brady v NFL.
That development was a major stumbling block because the NFL wanted all pending litigation to be dropped before it would agree to lift the lockout.
Mankins, though, issued a statement through the NFLPA late Thursday afternoon that “reaffirmed his support for a fair settlement that is good for ALL players and members of the class.”
“He and the NFLPA are disappointed by unnamed and unsourced reports in the media that he asked for any financial compensation to be a named plaintiff in the Brady case,” the statement said. “Any contention that he would put himself ahead of the other players in this league are baseless.”
Jackson's stance is unclear.
Also chief among the players' concerns, Smith said, is union recertification. The same source told FOXSports.com he didn’t believe the NFL’s demand that the NFLPA recertify as a union would impede a deal being completed.
The easiest path toward recertification is if the owners agree to lift the lockout and allow the players to vote in person in training camp, one person with knowledge of the negotiations told FOXSports.com.
If the owners are not willing to do that, paper ballots would need to be sent to each of the league’s 1,900 players, a lengthy process that could take several days to complete and would likely delay the start of training camp.
The players voted to decertify in March before the start of the lockout to pursue multiple lawsuits against the league. A simple majority would allow the players union to re-form with a recertification vote.
Reportedly, that vote will take place through paper ballots distributed by individual team representatives.
“Every individual person has to make a decision about whether they want to be part of a union,” Smith said. “Recommendations are made by the executive committee as advisors to the (players) or the board of directors as advisors to the (players). These are individual decisions . . . our players take extremely seriously.”
Smith said he didn’t like what he’s heard from some owners — he didn’t mention any names — who question whether the NFLPA ever stopped being a union. Since the decertification, the NFLPA is supposed to be considered a trade association with an advisory role.
“Guess what?” Smith said defiantly. "The decision to decertify was important because at the time we were a real union. The decision to come back as a union is going to be serious and sober.”
However, the owners might be reticent to lift the lockout because it would potentially expose the NFL to more antitrust litigation.
An NFL player told FOXSports.com that he received an email from his team’s NFLPA representative detailing where things stood in negotiations after Wednesday’s meeting in Washington.
The email listed the components of the deal that were acceptable to the NFLPA as well as issues that still needed resolution. There were no details, though, as to how a vote would be conducted for the NFLPA to recertify as a union.
The email also cited NFLPA concerns about how the media was covering the lockout. There is a feeling among some player representatives that the media is trying to paint the players' side into a corner to end the lockout, even if NFLPA members still aren’t completely satisfied with the CBA. Some NFL team representatives feel the same way on their side.
The player said he and his peers have strong concerns about the timetable for lifting the lockout. They believe teams might try to pressure players to report before training camp opens to begin football-related work and frown upon those who are reticent to arrive that quickly.
Blank said the new CBA would be 400 pages in length and last for 10 years. That should bring some much-needed labor peace between the two sides after three years of bickering over the previous agreement.
"We can focus on football for a very long period of time and not have the distractions like we've had for the past four months and really the last couple of years," Blank said. "I'm very positive about that."
Blank said "communication issues" might have kept the NFLPA from voting Wednesday on the CBA at a meeting of player representatives in Washington. He said the NFL and NFLPA lawyers worked throughout the night Wednesday trying to remove the final impediments.
"They were not significant issues that had to be completed," Blank said. "I'm optimistic that we'll get their approval, hopefully today. If not, the league has the ability to ratify the agreement from an owners' perspective, subject to the players', obviously.
"When you get through a deal as complex as this, there are always issues — dotting I's, crossing T's — that have to be wrapped up at the last minute. This is pretty typical of any major financial partnership transaction. I've been involved in a number in my life, and it's not unusual to see this type of thing."
Blank said the work rules and calendar for upcoming NFL transactions and personnel (free agency, trades, salary cap, etc.) were still not finalized as of Wednesday night. However, there is a general understanding of how things will unfold.
NFL owners, GMs and assorted team personnel members — each franchise brought at least four player personnel employees to the Atlanta meetings — assembled much of Thursday afternoon for what was expected to be a 90-minute meeting setting the table for a CBA vote as well as how the new personnel rules will work.
Multiple NFL sources told FOXSports.com that owners still must agree on their own revenue-sharing plan, as well as vote to ratify a new CBA. It was unclear whether the two votes would be combined. But revenue sharing has emerged as another owner-sided glitch: Big-market teams, such as the Dallas Cowboys, are reluctant to surrender much of their new stadium revenue with smaller market clubs with older facilities.
Owners are expected to break from their meetings late Thursday and gather again on Friday for the funeral of beloved NFL figure Myra Kraft, the wife of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft who lost her battle with cancer on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, GMs and player personnel groups from each team might now convene Friday for the planned series of free-agency meetings at another Atlanta airport hotel. That symposium, which could extend well into the weekend, is intended to instruct the personnel side how to proceed with player signings and free agency — with or without a player ratification vote.
"I know our coaching staff is prepared to go forward," said Blank, whose club is the defending NFC South champion.
Blank also is happy about a new labor deal because it will allow his team and players to interact again — something that was barred after the lockout that began in mid-March.
"It's difficult," Blank said. "We know our players. The players know the owners. There are personal relationships there that go on for many, many years. But I think everybody understands this is a process we’ve had to go through.
“It’s been done, I think, as professionally as it can be done on both sides. I’m pleased we are where we are today. I’m looking forward to getting to know our players again back on the football field."
A.J. Perez and Nancy Gay of FOXSports.com contributed to this report.