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Owners could still vote Thursday
NFL owners were somewhat frustrated, but not deterred, Wednesday afternoon after hearing the NFL Players Association executive committee and player representatives from all 32 teams did not vote on a tentative deal to end the 127-day lockout.
In fact, the NFL owners may vote to ratify a new Collective Bargaining Agreement on Thursday even if the players don't sign off on it first, the league's lead counsel said.
"Ratification is an independent process by each side, just as they could ratify something if we haven't voted," said Jeff Pash, the NFL's top attorney who has been at the forefront of the often contentious, but increasingly civil, battle with the players over a new labor agreement. "So I assume we could do something."
The players union decertified in March to allow individual players to challenge the league in court individually under antitrust law, paving the way for 10 players — including Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning — to sue the owners in federal court in a class action claim.
That suit remains unresolved, which is a sticking point in negotiations. Regardless, would the lack of a recertification vote by the NFLPA prevent the owners from approving the CBA that is before them?
"No. We would expect that this will be a comprehensive labor agreement, though, before all is said and done," Pash said.
In all, the lack of player movement in Washington didn't seem to ruffle the NFL publicly. Privately, several owners grumbled about the delay in settling the disruptive labor impasse.
At stake: NFL training camps that are scheduled to open this weekend, as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 7. It is widely assumed that without an agreement between players and owners on Thursday, the that game between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams will either be delayed or cancelled.
The opening preseason game is still on schedule, "But it's tight. It's getting tight," Pash cautioned.
A delay in the preseason schedule could cost as much as $200 million per week in lost revenue by some estimates.
Pash didn't express dismay over the NFLPA continuing to mull over the complex details of a new CBA, which reportedly will span 10 years.
"It doesn't impact (us) at all," Pash said after owners broke free from an informational meeting at an Atlanta hotel early Wednesday evening. "We're going to continue to work with the players. We'll find out if there are issues that still need to be negotiated. And we're going to work cooperatively with them through the evening and try to have something in place that both sides can vote on (Thursday)."
While NFL owners came together in Atlanta in anticipation of a scheduled day of meetings on Thursday — a gathering they expected would include ratifying a player-approved CBA and setting forth ground rules for free agency — the concurrent NFLPA meetings in D.C. did not yield the results necessary to halt the four-month lockout.
Players and their representatives are still sorting through the volume of information contained in the new CBA that would end the league's first work stoppage since 1987, several NFL and NFLPA sources confirmed.
What is the mood of ownership at this point?
"It's cautious," Pash said. "But I think we're making progress. Over the past several weeks, the staffs and the attorneys have been making a lot of progress on the documentation and the language issues and both sides are at the point where they can close, and they should close. And we should be in a position to take votes."
Conversations took place with NFLPA representatives on Wednesday, Pash confirmed, meaning negotiations are ongoing. He emphasized that he was not surprised at all players chose not to vote on the CBA.
"I can't speak for what was going on in their caucus," Pash said, "but it's a long, complicated agreement and there are a lot of issues. And we're talking about entering into an agreement that would last for quite a few years, hopefully will bring a lot of stability in our relationship for many years to come.
"And, understandably, that's something that people want to take their time and consider."
As far as the NFL is concerned, there should be no sticking points remaining.
"Not to us, no," Pash said. "I can't speak for them."
Pash did confirm the NFL wants the players' antitrust suit and all pending litigation to go away, and that an owner vote would be contingent on that.
"I think we're going to have an agreement that all clubs will be a part of and all players will be a part of," he said. "That is my expectation."
"I think that is the healthy outcome, to have a complete, comprehensive, global agreement that settles all the disputes and puts us on a path where we're going forward together, as business partners, the way it should be, rather than the way we're going forward with one hand and fighting over something in the past."
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