NFL owners approve tentative deal; players end meeting without vote


Associated Press

The way NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke about club owners’ overwhelming approval of a tentative decade-long agreement to end the lockout, he might as well have been yelling, “Are you ready for some football?!”

Not so fast, fans. The deal’s not done yet.

Yes, owners voted 31-0 — the Oakland Raiders abstained — on a proposal that would have put the country’s most popular sport back in business, provided players re-establish their union and sign off on the deal. And there’s the catch: Players didn’t vote Thursday, saying they had not seen the full proposal.

“How can we hold a vote on something that we haven’t seen the finished product of?” Buffalo Bills player rep George Wilson said in a telephone interview. “Ultimately, the guys felt like this thing is being force-fed to us; that it’s being shoved down our throats.”

Wilson also sounded a more optimistic note, adding: “I don’t think this deal is blown up. We can definitely work through these issues.”

Soon after the owners’ vote, following nine hours of discussions — and a couple of breaks for food — at an Atlanta-area hotel, the league issued a press release announcing: “NFL clubs approved today the terms of a comprehensive settlement of litigation and a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.”

It didn’t take long for NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith to email team reps to say: “Issues that need to be collectively bargained remain open; other issues, such as workers’ compensation, economic issues and end of deal terms, remain unresolved. There is no agreement between the NFL and the players at this time.”

Shortly thereafter, players held a conference call and decided not to vote.

Goodell and Smith, who was at NFLPA headquarters in Washington, talked on the phone several times Thursday. Both sides also talked Thursday to the court-appointed mediator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are supposed to remain secret.

Once their vote was completed, Goodell, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash and various owners talked glowingly about the deal — and an anticipated return to the field.

“Hopefully, we can all work quickly, expeditiously, to get this agreement done,” Goodell said. “It is time to get back to football. That’s what everybody here wants to do.”

But several players took to Twitter, expressing opposition to the proposal. Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark wrote: “The owners want u to believe that they have been extremely fair everywhere and this is their ‘olive branch’ to finalize it.”

Owners exercised an opt-out clause in the old collective bargaining agreement in 2008, setting the stage for the recent labor impasse. The new deal does not contain an opt-out clause.

The four-month lockout is the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987. And as a result, this season’s exhibition opener was canceled Thursday — the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame game between Chicago and St. Louis in Canton, Ohio.

“The time was just too short,” Goodell said. “Unfortunately, we’re not going to be able to play the game this year.”

If players approve the agreement, team facilities would open Saturday, and the new league year would begin Wednesday, with full free agency and opening of training camps.

“I can’t say we got everything we wanted to get in the deal,” New York Giants owner John Mara said. “I’m sure (players) would say the same thing. … The best thing about it is our fans don’t have to hear about labor-management relations for another 10 years.”

The owners’ meeting near Atlanta’s airport lasted most of the day — including breaks for lunch and dinner. Black limousines that lined up outside at midafternoon wound up waiting and waiting for owners to emerge. More than 100 members of the media packed into the lobby and lined the hallways leading to the conference room where the owners met behind closed doors.

After word of the owners’ vote emerged, one fan at the hotel, Dave Gower of Knoxville, Tenn., said: “Finally. I don’t understand why it took so long. I hope the players take it and run with it.”

The old CBA expired March 11, when federally mediated negotiations fell apart, and the owners locked out the players hours later. Since then, teams have not been allowed to communicate with current NFL players; players — including those drafted in April — could not be signed; and teams did not pay for players’ health insurance.

The basic framework for the league’s new economic model — including how to split more than $9 billion in annual revenues — was set up during negotiations last week.

“These things, by their very nature, aren’t supposed to make you necessarily happy when you walk out the door. It was a negotiation,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “I don’t mean to sound negative, but it isn’t exactly like Christmas has come along here.”

Final issues involved how to set aside three pending court cases, including the antitrust lawsuit filed against the NFL in federal court in Minnesota by Tom Brady and nine other players. Pash, the NFL’s lead negotiator, said the owners’ understanding is that case will be dismissed.

One thing owners originally sought and won’t get, at least right away, is expanding the regular season from 16 games to 18. That won’t change before 2013, and the players must agree to a switch.

“We heard the players loud and clear. They pushed back pretty hard on that issue,” said Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, chairman of the league’s competition committee.

Goodell also announced that owners approved a supplemental revenue-sharing system, something Smith noted in his email to team reps. “Obviously, we have not been a part of those discussions,” he wrote.

Even after all acceptable terms are established, a deal would lead to a new CBA only if NFLPA team reps recommend re-establishing the group as a union, which must be approved by a majority vote of the 1,900 players.

In March, when talks broke down and the old CBA expired, the NFLPA said it was dissolving itself as a union and instead becoming a trade association, a move that allowed the players to sue the league under antitrust law. But only a union can sign off on a CBA.

“We think we have a fair, balanced agreement,” Panthers owner Jerry Richardson said.

The deal would make significant changes in offseason workout schedules, reducing team programs by five weeks and cutting organized team activities (OTAs) from 14 to 10 sessions. There will be limited on-field practice time and contact, and more days off for players.

Current players would be able to stay in the medical plan for life. They also will have an injury protection benefit of up to $1 million of a player’s salary for the year after his injury and up to $500,000 in the second year after his injury.

A total of $50 million per year will go into a joint fund for medical research, health-care programs, and charities.

If the players approve the deal, the NFL would get back to work right away:

—On Saturday, teams can stage voluntary workouts at club facilities, and players may be waived. Contracts can be re-negotiated and clubs can sign draft picks and their own free agents. Teams can also negotiate with, but not sign, free agents from other clubs and undrafted rookies.

—On Sunday, teams can sign undrafted rookies.

—On Wednesday, free agency opens in full, and all training camps will open with a 90-man roster limit; activities that day will be limited to physicals, meetings and conditioning. All clubs must be under the salary cap.

But Buffalo’s Wilson said he was not aware of a players’ vote having been scheduled for Friday.

“We treat this like a football game: You have one bad play, move on to the next play. You don’t sit and harp on the negative plays,” Wilson said. “Ultimately, tomorrow’s a new day.”

Court upholds NFL owners’ right to lock out players


Barry Wilner/ Associated Press

New York —The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday threw out a judge’s order lifting the NFL lockout, possibly giving the league leverage in talks aimed at reaching a new labor deal.

The ruling was issued shortly after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith opened a second straight day of negotiations at a law firm in Manhattan.

The court vacated an April 25 decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson that the lockout should be lifted because players were suffering irreparable harm. The appeals court had already put that order on hold and said in its ruling that Nelson ignored federal law in reaching her decision.

The appeals court ruling allows the players’ antitrust lawsuit to move forward, but the court did take issue with the NFL Players Association’s decision to decertify on March 11, a move that cleared the way for players to file their still-pending antitrust lawsuit against the league.

“The league and the players’ union were parties to a collective bargaining agreement for almost eighteen years prior to March 2011,” the appeals court said in its 2-1 decision. “They were engaged in collective bargaining over terms and conditions of employment for approximately two years … Then, on a single day, just hours before the CBA’s expiration, the union discontinued collective bargaining and disclaimed its status ….”

“Whatever the effect of the union’s disclaimer on the league’s immunity from antitrust liability, the labor dispute did not suddenly disappear just because the players elected to pursue the dispute through antitrust litigation rather than collective bargaining.”

Judges Steven Colloton and Duane Benton backed the league Friday, just as the two Republican appointees did in two earlier decisions. Judge Kermit Bye, appointed by a Democrat, dissented both times, favoring the players, and he did so again Friday.

Bye had urged settlement of the dispute to avoid a ruling “both sides aren’t going to like.”

The two sides have been meeting for weeks to try to reach a new labor pact. On Friday, NFLPA executive board President Kevin Mawae and owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys joined Goodell and Smith for more negotiations.

On Thursday, talks stretched on for more than 12 hours, deep into the evening. Some training camps are set to open in two weeks and the first exhibition game, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions, is Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio, between Chicago and St. Louis.

Pressure increases in NFL labor meetings


NFL: Wednesday’s notebook

Barry Wilner/ Associated Press

New York— Negotiations completed Wednesday and likely for the week, as NFL owners are setting sights on their upcoming meeting in Chicago.

Many players are looking beyond then — with optimism — toward getting back to work.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and several owners completed two days of talks with Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith and a group of players in Maryland.

A person with knowledge of the negotiations told the Associated Press the two sides have been making progress at several such meetings in the last three weeks.

The person, who spoke anonymously because details of the discussions aren’t supposed to be made public, also said a new collective bargaining agreement is not imminent.

Nonetheless, several players expressed confidence a new agreement will be reached soon and training camps will open on time in late July.

“I know that we’ve been talking pretty extensively over the last few weeks,” said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, one of 10 players whose names are on an antitrust lawsuit against the league. “It seems like things are moving in the right direction, which is very positive. It’s what we always hoped for as players because obviously we’re getting to crunch time here.”

Close enough to it.

Although no deadlines have been set for the opening of camps, officials from the 32 teams soon must decide whether to delay them, particularly those clubs that stage a portion of camp out of town.

Settling early in July almost certainly would provide for full training camps at previously planned locations, although Vikings officials have said they could delay until July 18 an announcement on whether they will train at their usual site in Mankato.

“I think everyone kind of has that feeling, that this thing’s starting to end,” said Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth, the team’s player representative. “I feel like that’s the attitude that everybody has, and you can see everybody preparing that way.

“When you look at the timeline for both sides, it starts to get real serious around this time.”

The lockout is in its fourth month.

During that time, there have been mediation sessions, court actions in Minnesota and Missouri, and clandestine meetings between Goodell and Smith, a handful of owners and players.

Chris McCosky: Roger Goodell misses chance to heal old wound for Lions fans


Chris McCosky

Allen Park— In all honesty, it probably wasn’t a fair question.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spent 30 minutes answering questions from Lions season ticket holders via teleconference on Thursday. He’s either trying to reassure fans that there will be football in 2011, or trying to brace them for the opposite reality — it was tough to tell with all his talk about time being short.

Anyway, there was the commish, up to his neck in labor relations stress for the past five months, and one of the first questions he received was about the non-catch ruling against Calvin Johnson and the Lions in Week 1 last season.

“When you make bad calls,” a season-ticket holder wanted to know, “what are you going to do about it?”

Goodell took a deep breath. He probably knew that Lions fans would still be bitter about that call, but he couldn’t have thought he’d have to address it in this forum, during a lockout.

Are you kidding me?

Maybe he was caught off guard a bit — give him a slight pass for that — but he totally blew the answer. He missed a golden opportunity to heal a wound and to assuage a feeling around here that the Lions are the league’s favorite floor mat.

At the very least, he could have been empathetic. Even if he believes the rule is just and the call was right, he could have said it was tough way to start a season and praise the team for the resiliency it showed in winning its final four games.

He would have been better served by simply saying that the competition committee upheld that ruling and this wasn’t the right time or place to discuss it.

Instead, he served up the same batch of verbal slop the league spewed back in September. He explained the three elements of a catch — secure and control of the ball, maintaining control of the ball once two feet or another body part hits the ground and “you have to make sure you control the ball long enough after the first two elements have occurred.”

I am sure a collective “Ugh” went out through every person listening to the teleconference. Control the ball long enough — could that be any more vague or subjective? There isn’t a 6-year-old on the planet who would look at that play and say Johnson dropped the ball. But you get a bunch of officials together and fill their heads with vague guidelines and they can no longer recognize one of the most basic elements of the game — a catch.

Let’s be consistent

Fox 2’s Dan Miller, who hosted the teleconference, gave Goodell a chance to ease the fans’ pain by asking a leading follow-up question — trying to get him to acknowledge why the fans are bitter — but he was rejected.

“What people want is consistency and any time there is judgment, that’s sometimes when you get the inconsistency,” Goodell said. “If you are a fan of one team you look at it from one perspective. If you are a fan of another team you look at it from another perspective. You want to make it as black and white as possible and be as consistent as possible.”

Good grief. The Lions looked at it like they got robbed. The Bears looked at it like they got a gift. And as far as the rule being black and white and consistent, it is absolutely neither.

But that is beside the point here.

If it was Goodell’s intent to foster some goodwill with Lions fans, he blew it. He said a lot of interesting things during those 30 minutes, but the only thing most fans will take out of it is how he stubbornly refused to acknowledge that a mistake was made, one that cost the fans around here a good deal of anguish.

chris.mccosky@detnews.com

(313) 222-1489

Terry Foster: NFL commissioner smart to say no to replacement players


Terry Foster

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league is not considering using replacement players if the lockout continues through any or all of the 2011 season.

That’s a smart move on his part because there would be very little interest in watching a bunch of nobodies and has-beens race across a football field on Sundays. The NFL is not about the logo. It is about watching the best players in the world compete at a high level.

It’s hard to imagine many Lions fans would turn out to Ford Field to watch men they’ve never heard of play. It’s Ndamukong Suh and Matthew Stafford or bust. We are not interested in seeing Bob Smith of Ferris State.

Say no to Dom

Thankfully, former NHL goalie Dominik Hasek made it clear he does not want to return to the NHL, that he is content with playing Russian hockey.

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If Hasek hinted he wanted to return to the NHL, every other Red Wings fan would scream to have the 46-year-old clean up the goalie situation and lead the Wings to the playoffs, although I am betting Hasek’s butter fly doesn’t float the way it used to.

There is a lack of trust in Jimmy Howard — or Chris Osgood and the other backups — in this town. The Wings will live and die with Howard.

Be careful, U-M

We will see pretty quickly what kind of coaching staff they have at Michigan as the Wolverines attempt to transform Denard Robinson into a more conventional quarterback. They don’t want him running as much, which is understandable, because the main goal should be getting him through an entire game without getting his bell rung.

But Robinson is what he is. He is a multi-dimensional and dual-threat quarterback. The Atlanta Falcons attempted to turn Michael Vick into a west-coast quarterback and that failed. Let’s see what this staff can do with Robinson.

Pistons’ fan base dries up

This town is no longer a basketball town, thanks in part to the Pistons. It is a town of front-runners. Did you see the number of LeBron James jerseys at The Palace the other day when the Miami Heat came to town? People kept saying how much they hated James after “The Decision.” I kept telling you that would make him bigger and more powerful.

People love to follow the hot name. There were a group of guys who wore James jerseys and red watches to the game. I just don’t get it. But again I do. What Piston jersey would you wear? Nobody. The most recognizable name is Richard Hamilton, and the Pistons tried to run him out of town.

Quick hits

* I got some phone calls and e-mails from people upset that I wrote that the Heat won’t win the NBA title. They guaranteed the Heat will win. Don’t bet the house my friends. You will lose that bet.

* Speaking of bets, let’s place them now: Who will contribute more to the Tigers this year, Carlos Guillen or Joel Zumaya?

terry.foster@detnews.com

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell e-mails all active players


Associated Press

Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote NFL players Thursday, outlining the league’s last proposal to the union and cautioning that “each passing day puts our game and our shared economics further at risk.”

Goodell ended the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, by telling players: “I hope you will encourage your union to return to the bargaining table and conclude a new collective bargaining agreement.”

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Talks between the teams’ owners and the NFL Players Association broke off last Friday, the 16th day of federal mediation in Washington. The union dissolved that afternoon, allowing players to file a class-action antitrust suit in federal court. Hours later, owners locked out the players, creating the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987.

“I’ve told my guys to take the letter and set it on fire. We’re not that stupid,” said Seattle Seahawks guard Chester Pitts, whose reaction was relayed by NFLPA assistant executive director George Atallah.

Goodell wrote that the NFLPA “walked out of the federal mediator’s offices … and filed a lawsuit.” He also said owners “are prepared to resume those negotiations at any time.”

“We need to come together, and soon,” Goodell wrote.

He told players he wants them to “understand the offer that we made,” a proposal put forth during the final day of negotiations.

“We believe the offer presented a strong and fair basis for continuing negotiations, allowing the new league year and free agency to begin, and growing our game in the years to come,” Goodell said.

His letter goes point-by-point through 10 categories Goodell said were included in the NFL’s last proposal. Among them:

— Salary and benefits would be $141 million per club in 2011, and rise to $161 million by 2014;

— Free agency after four seasons;

— Less offseason work and fewer padded practices in the preseason and regular season;

— Keeping a 16-game regular season for at least the next two seasons and not changing to 18 games without the union’s agreement;

— Guaranteeing up to $1 million of a second year of a player’s contract if he is injured and can’t return to play;

— A new rookie compensation system;

— A jointly appointed neutral arbitrator for all drug and steroid appeals.