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NFL owners voted overwhelmingly in favor of a tentative 10-year agreement -NFL.COM


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NFL owners voted overwhelmingly in favor of a tentative 10-year agreement to end the lockout Thursday, pending player approval.

The vote was 31-0 with the Oakland Raiders abstaining from the ratification, which came after a full day of meetings at an Atlanta-area hotel.

Players still had to sign off on the deal -- and they must re-establish their union, the NFL said. Players didn't vote on a full pact Wednesday because there were issues that had not been resolved. They planned to have a conference call later Thursday.



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

The four-month lockout is the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987. One casualty was the first game on the preseason schedule -- the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame game between Chicago and St. Louis was canceled Thursday.

"The time was just too tight," Goodell said. "Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to play the game this year."

Team facilities will open Saturday, and the new league year will begin Wednesday, he said -- assuming the players approve the agreement, too.

The owners locked out players on March 12. During that time, teams were not 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.

Key aspects of the proposal include:

» An agreement that covers the 2011 through 2020 seasons, including the 2021 draft.

» Reducing the offseason program by five weeks and reducing OTAs from 14 to 10; limiting full-contact practices in the preseason and regular season, and increasing number of days off for players.

» Rookie wage scale to include four-year contracts for all drafted players (option for five years on first-rounders), three-year contracts for undrafted free agents, and strong anti-holdout rules.

» Creation of a new fund to redistribute, beginning in 2012, savings from new rookie pay system to current and retired player benefits and a veteran player performance pool.

» Unrestricted free agency for players after four accrued seasons; restricted free agency for players with three accrued seasons.

» Over the next 10 years, additional funding for retiree benefits between $900 million and $1 billion. The largest single amount, $620 million, will be used for a new "Legacy Fund," which will be devoted to increasing pensions for pre-1993 retirees.

» Salary cap plus benefits of $142.4 million per club in 2011 and at least that amount in 2012 and 2013. senior writer Steve Wyche reported that a football operations meeting will start Friday at 8 a.m. ET, according to a league source.

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith suggested earlier Thursday that recertifying the union -- a necessary step toward an agreement -- wasn't imminent.

Importance of recertification
Now that owners have ratified a proposal to end the lockout, NFL Network legal analyst Gabe Feldman explains the importance of the NFLPA recertifying. More...

"Here in America, every time an employee makes that decision about whether he wants to be a part of a union, it's something that is serious, significant and should be done in a very sober way," Smith said.

Smith said recertification is a serious issue that the players will consider individually.

"I certainly remember comments from some of the owners about how we may not even be a real union," Smith said. "Well, guess what? The decision to decertify was important because at the time we were a real union. And the decision for our players, as men, to come back as a union is going to be an equally serious and sober one that they have to make."

One of the things being discussed in terms of a settlement is how and when the NFLPA would recertify as a union. Player sources indicated to NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora that the NFLPA wants to use a system of signed cards and follow certain bylaws in order to recertify.

The issue between the parties is mainly one of time, specifically how long it would take to collect approximately 1,900 signatures. Getting those signatures takes time, and the league obviously is looking to open for business as soon as possible. There is the possibility the National Labor Relations Board could help speed things up, even if the recertification process is done by actual signature.

Tune into to NFL Network for complete coverage as owners and players enter the final phase of labor negotiations to end the NFL lockout. Albert Breer, Steve Wyche, Scott Hanson and Jason La Canfora are providing live coverage from Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

The parties also could come to a compromise, according to a source, whereby the lockout is lifted before a full global settlement is reached -- which would have to include recertification in order to have a full CBA -- to allow players to report in the interim.

That would make it easier to collect signatures and cards of players currently under contract since they would be centrally located at team facilities. If that takes place, in theory, then the signatures needed could be obtained over weekend and allow the league year to begin next week.

Numerous sources told La Canfora that the issue of lifting the lockout in order to allow for recertification votes to take place is one of the final hurdles to overcome. Once that is resolved, there can be a potential settlement that owners would vote on and player reps would recommend to the plaintiffs in the Brady antitrust lawsuit as soon as Thursday night.

It's not the only issue, but it's one potential tradeoff that is being talked about, along with a few other outstanding topics. This horse-trading is commonplace at the end of a deal like this, and the parties definitely made have significant strides on many settlement issues, sources said.

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew told NFL Network the conference call likely will be to educate players on the details of the proposed deal.

"A lot of people have to understand, we're not extending the CBA from prior years or anything like that," Jones-Drew said. "This is 600 pages that we've created (through) negotiations with the owners. So we have to go through a lot of legal documents, a lot of things."

Jones-Drew added: "I've always told people on my radio show, the closer we get, the harder it's going to be. I think both sides have moved very far from where we had our sticking points. Things should be happening here pretty closely, but you can't rush anything like this because it's going to affect the game for years to come, for a decade hopefully."


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