NFL players unanimously approve deal

Players' agreement finally brings NFL lockout to end.

Some drizzle fell as the cloud known as the NFL’s four-month lockout was lifted.

A cross section of the NFL, including a handful of owners and players, gathered on the sidewalk in front of the National Football Players Association headquarters Monday afternoon to announce that the league’s contentious labor dispute, which began in March, had finally ended.

Minutes earlier, the NFLPA executive committee and then player representatives from the NFL's 32 clubs unanimously approved the terms of a 10-year collective bargaining agreement and to “recommend settlement” of the Brady v. NFL lawsuit filed by 10 players against the league.

Those plaintiffs — they included quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Petyon Manning — OK’d the deal, two people close to the negotiations told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

“It’s a long time coming,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said after he shook hands with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. “Football is back, and that’s great news for everybody.”

The agreement — which won’t become fully ratified until a few more steps are taken — jump-starts a harried pace over the next several days that usually consumes an entire offseason:

Tuesday: Teams open their facilities at 10 a.m. ET; trades can begin to take place; teams will be allowed sign rookies and begin to negotiate with their own free agents.

Wednesday: The first 10 teams will be allowed to open training camp (camps are allowed to open 15 days before preseason game).

Thursday: Clubs are able to waive or terminate player contracts starting at 4:01 p.m. ET.

Friday: Clubs can begin to renegotiate contracts; clubs can sign players, but free agents are restricted from activity until the CBA is ratified.

“It’s going to be chaos,” said free-agent fullback Tony Richardson, a member of the NFLPA executive committee. “That’s the best word for it.

“Guys are excited to get back to work. The whole thing has been a big process. This is another step in that process. At the end of the day, we want get back out and play football.”

The CBA cannot be ratified until the NFLPA, currently considered a trade association, recertifies. Ballots already began going out to team representatives on Monday, and a simple majority of the league’s 1,900 players is needed to vote the union back into existence. After that happens, players will then vote to approve the CBA.

The league aims to have this process completed by Aug. 4, which will allow time for the Brady v. NFL suit to be settled in federal court and other issues, like a substance abuse policy, to be worked out.

“I don’t believe there is going to be a problem with the unity of players,” Smith said. “Going forward, we do have serious and critical issues to address.

“I think part of the good news is that we were a few blocks up in March (in front of a mediator), managed to talk about a lot of issues that make football better and safer. I think we have a little bit of a head start on those issues.”

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