Relief was the overwhelming sentiment among NFL owners minutes after the group voted 31-0 Thursday evening to ratify a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with their players. And while the NFL Players Association representatives had yet to ratify on their end and were openly grousing at the pressure placed on them by the other side, ownership seemed certain that NFL games would soon be back in business.
“We’re waiting on them,” Houston Texans owner Bob McNair said of the players, “and it’s been a long negotiation. No one got everything that they wanted, so it’s probably a fair deal.
“Now, we hope that they act quickly so that our players can get into the facility and we can start practicing.”
In Washington, D.C., NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith made it clear that despite the ownership ratification, “there is no agreement between the NFL and the players at this time.”
Owners are not expected to unlock the gates of their facilities to players and open training camps until the NFLPA not only ratifies the agreement, but agrees to recertify as a union that collectively bargains and will not permit individual players to sue the league on antitrust grounds.
Regardless of the players’ reluctance to ratify Thursday night, ownership largely applauded their own efforts to approve a labor agreement that they believe will bring badly needed long-term stability to the game.
“We’re just excited about it. We think it’s a win-win,” Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy said. “There are a lot of positives on both sides of this, a lot of compromise, and to me, the best thing is it allows us to have a full preseason as well as a full regular season. So it’s just a great thing, and hopefully the players will ratify it soon.”
McNair also is holding out hope players will soon approve the new agreement, “but we have no control over what they do,” he said. “We’ve ratified the agreement, and it’s just up to them to act on it at this point and time.
“To our fans, we’re ready to go out and play. And we’re waiting on the union, and they’re probably anxious, too. And I hope they can act quickly.”
The lone abstention in the 31-0 landslide approval came from the Oakland Raiders, who were represented by CEO Amy Trask. Acting on the authority of managing general partner Al Davis — who did not attend the Atlanta meetings — Trask said the Raiders had deep concerns about certain aspects of the agreement that prevented them from voting yes.
“We have profound philosophical differences on a number of issues, both of a football and an economic nature,” Trask told FOXSports.com exclusively. “We have been very consistent in expressing these differences to the league.”
The Raiders aren’t alone in some of the reservations privately expressed by teams. Among them: the revised free agency rules that include unrestricted free agency for players after four accrued seasons; the revised revenue-sharing plan that seemingly hands more power to big-market clubs such as the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots; and the transition rules to protect veteran players in 2011.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who was unhappy with the new revenue-sharing plan that calls for his wealthy franchise to greatly subsidize many of the NFL’s smaller-market teams with older stadium facilities, couched his enthusiasm for the new deal.
“I’m proud that we are basically finished here,” Jones said, “but these things, by their very nature, are not supposed to make you necessarily happy when you walk out the door.
“Because it was a negotiation, and by that very nature, you’re supposed to leave some of it behind, or some of you behind. And that’s what happened here. I don’t mean to sound negative, but it isn’t exactly like Christmas has come along."
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who had remained the eternal optimist in recent weeks as the negotiations took some stomach-churning twists, said he was pleased with what the owners finally ratified.
“I don’t think you (ever) quite get the things and accomplish the things that you want to get done. I think that it’s an agreement that’s a fair agreement,” Irsay said. “Once you get to the finish line, you realize you’re coming up short on some things, but like any good agreement, that’s the way it should be.
“And so in my mind, it’s a fair deal and it’s something where we just want to get back to football. The main thing for me always was during this process, I didn’t want to see games missed, a work stoppage.”
The ugly images and fallouts of the 1982 and 1987 NFL strikes are still fresh in the minds of many owners, including Irsay.
“I went through it in ’82; we played nine games. Went through it in ’87. Saw how difficult it was,” Irsay said. “Some of the people who weren’t around, you know, (and you) have to go back and really remember how hard those times were … when you’re getting to the middle of the season and missing games and picket lines and bus windows broken with replacement players coming through and going to the stadium with union violence that we went through in the ’80s.
“I saw that process age (former NFL commissioner) Pete Rozelle. I saw it wear down Pete Rozelle. Saw how difficult (it was when) all we did was focus on those issues and not positive things. That’s the main thing, to avoid missing games and a work stoppage. I think it’s great news.”
What happens if and when the players ratify and recertify as a union?
“The free agency signing period will be short and intense but very exciting,” said Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, who also is a co-chairman of the NFL’s competition committee.
“I think it will be different than any other year we’ve ever had. I think the start of free agency is always frenetic, if you will. It’s always a crazy time. It always is 48 hours of a different mindset, as far as negotiating this. This one will be different than any others,” McKay said. “There are more players that have free agency attached to their name. There’s somewhere between 400 and 500 players, so it will be different.
“And the other thing that will be very challenging for us, as a league, is the stress on the coaches. I think this will be a really stressful time for coaches, and we, as club people, have to be very mindful of that because the teams will be built as we’re actually going into the preseason. The teams will be adding players. It will be just a different time period.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to minimize those distractions and let them focus on building a football team. We haven’t had any offseason. We haven’t had any OTAs. Now, they’re coming to camp with less players, probably, than they’re going to have at the end of the camp. In other words, free agents will be added during that time period. I just think it will be very challenging for them.”
What will the timing be in regard to allowing trades? Will the trade window open the same time as free agency?
“No, I think it might open up earlier,” McKay said. “I think it might open up before free agency. I think that was the discussion, the timeline I’ve seen. I’m not sure it’s in cement yet, but I think that’s my understanding.”
The delay on reaching a new CBA with the players already has produced one casualty — the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame game, scheduled for Aug. 7 between the Chicago Bears and the St. Louis Rams in Canton, Ohio, has been canceled.
Jones said the NFL’s first preseason game has been on the minds of owners throughout the negotiations.
“I’m sorry we canceled that, and I’m on the Hall of Fame committee and I’ve been going up there (Canton) a lot,” Jones said.” We’ve had a lot of Cowboys go in the Hall of Fame lately. So I’ve got to go up, and I’ll be going up for Deion (Sanders).
“I regret we are having to do that and hope we can get right back out here with our players and be ready for them to be ready in these preseason games.”
John Manasso of FOX Sports South contributed to this report.