NFL players, owners working to close deal


Howard Fendrich and Barry Wilner/ Associated Press

The NFL told club executives they could be schooled in the ins and outs of the new labor contract as early as Thursday, and the players’ association summoned its leadership for a potential vote — the strongest signs the lockout might be nearing an end.

Lawyers for both sides met 81/2 hours Monday in New York, including 31/2 with a court-appointed mediator, to try to close a deal to resolve the sport’s first work stoppage since 1987. Talks were scheduled to continue today.

“Making progress,” said NFL Players Association outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, who also represents locked-out NBA players.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith spoke to each other on the telephone Monday and planned to stay in regular contact.

“Nobody cheers for you at Mile 25 of a marathon. You still have to cross the finish line,” NFLPA representative George Atallah said in Washington. “There still are things that can get you tripped up, and we’re going to push through.”

Owners are set to hold a special meeting in Atlanta on Thursday, when they could ratify a new agreement — if there is one. Executives from all 32 teams then would be briefed there Thursday and Friday on how the terms would affect league business, The Associated Press reported.

The clubs reportedly were told Monday that topics would include the 2011 NFL calendar, rookie salary system and guidelines for player transactions.

Any tentative agreement also must be approved by the players, of course, including star quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees and the other plaintiffs in a federal antitrust suit against the league.

Members of the NFLPA executive committee and representatives of every team were heading to Washington by Wednesday, in preparation for possible decisions on re-establishing a union and signing off on a tentative pact with owners.

Atallah said the players would be gathering “with the hope they have something to look at, and with the hope we can move forward on this.”

Owners locked out players on March 12, when the old collective bargaining agreement expired, leaving the country’s most popular professional sports league in limbo. The sides are trying to forge a settlement in time to keep the preseason completely intact. The exhibition opener is supposed to be the Hall of Fame game between the Rams and Bears on Aug. 7.

The regular-season opener is scheduled for Sept. 8, when the Super Bowl champion Packers are to host the Saints.

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick tweeted: “Sound like we gonna be back to work so soon!!!”

One issue standing in the way of a resolution, according to the AP: Players want owners to turn over $320 million in unpaid benefits from the 2010 season. Because there was no salary cap that season, the old collective bargaining agreement said NFL teams were not required to pay those benefits.

On a separate matter, the AP reported a proposal currently under consideration would set up nearly $1 billion over the next 10 years in additional benefits for retired players. That would include $620 million in pension increases, long-term care insurance and disability programs. Representatives of retired players are expected to be in New York for today’s talks; that group complained to the court recently that it had been excluded from negotiations.

In agreement

Areas the NFL owners and players have figured out include:

How the more than $9 billion in annual league revenues will be divided, with somewhere from 46.5 to 48.5 percent going to players, depending on how much the total take from TV contracts and other sources rises or falls

A structure for rookie contracts that will rein in soaring salaries for high first-round draft picks

Free agency rules that allow most four-year veterans to negotiate with any team.

A cap of about $120 million per team for player salaries in 2011, with another $20 million per team in benefits.

Each team must spend at least 90 percent of the salary cap in cash each season, a higher figure than in the past.

Players saving during lockout


NFl: Roundup

Barry Wilner / Associated Press

Marco Island, Fla.— Don’t buy that car. Shorten that vacation. Eat at home.

Whatever they do, NFL players have been warned for years about the need to save and importance of budgeting money in case of a work stoppage.

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Well, the lockout is here.

“We’ve been hammering the point home for two years that you have to be careful and you have to be prepared,” Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said. “Guys I know have made concessions.

“There are always a few guys you have to be concerned about, that you think might not have taken the right steps. It’s a part of the education process. Maybe you have to spoon-feed them on filling out direct deposit slips or coaching them on a change of lifestyle.”

The lifestyle for professional football players is a good one. Seahawks guard Chester Pitts, a nine-year veteran, calls it “very comfortable.”

But Pitts notes it also needs to have limitations, more so when the players have no money coming in from the owners because of the labor stalemate.

“The guys in the locker room call me the cheapest guy around,” Pitts said with a laugh, “but you have to be wise with your money. You can live a great life and still be careful and still be smart.

“I tell guys, ‘Why do you need that $250,000 car? A Mercedes is a great car and it’s $85,000. You can afford that on your salary, and what’s that ($250,000) car going to do for you?'”

Willie Colon didn’t need that advice; he already had decided to stay out of the automotive market this offseason.

Colon, a Steelers tackle who missed the 2010 season because of a torn right Achilles’ tendon, had thoughts of purchasing a car for himself and his brother.

Won’t happen.

“I wanted to buy a car for my brother because his car is beat up,” said Colon, who earned $2.198 million last year. “But I told him this is not the year to make a lot of moves, especially with me being a (restricted) free agent and the lockout.”

Colon also said he’s eating out less and being responsible with his money, something he admits wasn’t always the case.

“When I was coming into the league as a rookie and I was able to get a signing bonus, I was somewhat dumb in spending it,” he said.

Extra point

Cowboys cornerback Bryan McCann is denying reports he was intoxicated when arrested by Dallas police during the weekend.

WFAA-TV of Dallas and Fort Worth reported early Sunday that the former SMU star was arrested early Saturday, charged with public intoxication, taken to the Dallas city detox center about 3 a.m. Saturday and released almost eight hours later.

However, McCann issued a statement Sunday that he “was not intoxicated and did not pose a danger” to himself or others.

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.