Progress made, but work remains on CBA

NFL owners and NFLPA representatives on Friday concluded a crucial week of positive negotiations that resolved many of the key points toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. But the amicable talks grounded to a halt when the two sides came to loggerheads over the issue of right-of-first refusal for free agents.

NFL sources confirmed to that players balked at an owners’ proposal to retain some sort of right-of-first-refusal control over players who have completed four or more years of NFL service. Owners are seeking a free agency process that would allow them to retain key veterans by matching any contract offer from another team.

Following the discussions in New York City, the NFL and NFLPA issued a joint statement Friday afternoon promising the negotiating process would continue, but cautioning that work remains to finalize a CBA that would allow the NFL to resume business.

“The discussions this week have been constructive and progress has been made on a wide range of issues. Our legal and financial teams will continue to work through the weekend,” the statement read. “We will continue to respect the confidentiality orders of Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan and will therefore refrain from commenting on specific issues or aspects of the negotiations. We will provide additional information as developments in this process continue.”

Both NFL owners and key figures negotiating for the decertified NFL Players Association made significant progress throughout the week on solving the issue of a rookie wage scale that would limit the amount of guaranteed money paid to unproven players, as well as settling on the paramaters of a salary cap for the 2011 season.

That cap, reports say, will be about $141 million per team, including player salaries and benefits, with $120 per team devoted solely to player salaries. Also included is a reported $3 million exemption to sign one additional player.

The two sides are scheduled to gather in Minneapolis for a Tuesday meeting with Boylan, the appointed mediator.

Among the issues still unresolved: benefits for retired players and how they will be funded; free agency rules and procedures; a resolution of the legal case involving the sport’s television contracts that awarded the players damages of about $2.5 billion in federal court; and the still-pending players’ federal antitrust lawsuit against the league that was filed on March 11, one day before the owners officially locked out the players.

It’s also widely assumed the NFLPA must recertify as a union so that players can vote on a new CBA. Owners will gather in Atlanta next Thursday for a one-day meeting, and both sides are hopeful a CBA ratification vote could take place at that time. Approval would require a yes vote from 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners.

NFL teams are scheduled to report to training camps beginning July 22, with the Hall of Fame game between the St. Louis Rams and the Chicago Bears scheduled for Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio. The first full week of exhibition games is scheduled for Aug. 11-15.