No CBA yet: More work to be done

BY Alex Marvez • July 18, 2011

The NFL still hadn’t finalized a labor deal Monday, but signs continued to point toward a resolution to the four-month player lockout by week’s end.

As league and player representatives met again in New York City, NFL Players Association members prepared to begin gathering for meetings Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington D.C.

An NFLPA vote ratifying a new 10-year collective-bargaining agreement could come as early as Wednesday. NFL owners could then do the same at a Thursday meeting in Atlanta. And if the 10 player plaintiffs in the Brady v. NFL antitrust lawsuit also sign off on a new deal, the work stoppage that was threatening to derail the league’s preseason will end.

In an email, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said that a labor seminar for club executives would then begin almost immediately after the expected ratification of the CBA (24 of 32 owner votes are needed for approval). According to Aiello’s email, the labor seminar topics would include “key terms of a new agreement, the (NFL) calendar, opening of league year, rules for player transactions, rookie compensation system, etc.”

The operating procedures of NFL teams when it comes to player contracts and roster building could change radically once new CBA rules are put into place. One likely difference from previous years for this season: Clubs would have a small window to begin signing undrafted rookie college players as well as an exclusive negotiating period to re-sign their own free agents before the market opens early next week.

The Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals are so hopeful a CBA can be quickly reached that both clubs have delayed decisions that would have pulled their training camps from remote sites (Mankato, Minn., and Georgetown, Ky., respectively). The NFL also has refused to cancel its Aug. 7 Hall of Fame Game preseason opener in Canton, Ohio, between St. Louis and Chicago despite the lack of practice time for each team.

However, there are still some hurdles that must be jumped before a new CBA agreement is reached. One point of contention is reportedly a player demand of $320 million in compensation for benefits lost during the 2010 season.

There also is still legal wrangling related to the Brady-v.-NFL lawsuit filed by players seeking financial damages for antitrust violations. Plaintiff lawyers filed a motion in federal district court Monday asking a judge to declare the lockout illegal and award damages. A hearing is slated for Aug. 29.

The lawsuit will almost certainly be dropped if a new CBA is reached. But the fact the motion was filed is proof a deal isn’t guaranteed, despite the substantial progress the sides have made in recent weeks.

Owners and player representatives have already agreed upon how future revenues will be split, which was the biggest stumbling block in pre-lockout negotiations that collapsed in mid-March. A source confirmed Monday that both sides also have agreed to set aside $1 billion in new benefits for retired players, resolving another schism that had lingered.

Arthur Boylan, a Minnesota federal district magistrate judge who has helped arbitrate talks between the NFL and its players since April, joined labor talks Monday afternoon in New York City. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith did not attend the sessions but spoke Monday and remain in contact by telephone, the Associated Press reported.

The NFL risks losing $1 billion in revenue with the cancellation of its entire preseason schedule, not to mention further alienating a fan base that helped the league generate record revenue of more than $9 billion in 2010.

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