Clifton Brown
Sporting News

July 19, 2011

NFL owners and players were close to their destination but still trying to land the plane.

A new 10-year NFL labor deal still appeared imminent Tuesday afternoon. However, some of the plaintiffs in the Brady v. NFL antitrust lawsuit were seeking compensation and conditions before that suit could be settled. Those plaintiffs included Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson, Patriots guard Logan Mankins, Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. The lack of a settlement in the Brady deal remained a main stumbling block in completing the labor agreement.

Negotiations continued Tuesday in both New York and Washington. In New York, chief mediator Judge Arthur Boylan, union leader Jeffrey Kessler and NFL lawyers were among those in attendance.

Tuesday afternoon in Washington, NFLPA spokesman George Atallah spoke briefly to reporters.

"It has already been a long day, it will be a long night," Atallah said. "Players are working very hard to do the right thing, and lay the groundwork for the rest of the week."

Issue of the day

Settlement of the Brady vs. NFL antitrust lawsuit remained a main sticking point. Yahoo! Sports reported that Jackson and Mankins wanted either to be declared free agents, or to receive $10 million. The Boston Globe reported Manning and Saints quarterback Brees want to be exempt from the franchise tag.

Players take

Jackson and Mankins believe they have already waited too long to become free agents. Jackson made $198,000 in base salary last season after holding out in a contract dispute. But Jackson believes he should have been an unrestricted free agent last season, and he is seeking compensation.

Manning and Brees may be using their leverage as franchise quarterbacks to their advantage. However, it remains to be seen how long a few players would hold firm with a deal apparently close at hand.

Owners take

This close to a potential agreement, the owners may not be willing to appease individual plaintiffs. The owners do not want any of the pending lawsuits against the NFL to be kept alive. Instead, the owners are seeking a "global settlement" concerning the Brady case, the lockout insurance case, and all other legal cases. A global settlement would mean that those legal issues would be dropped, in exchange for the players ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement.

Tuesday brought a few more positive signs. Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller and lawyers for retired NFL players joined Tuesday’s talks. In another indication the lockout is nearing an end, the NFL’s United Kingdom office sent an email to English fans Tuesday, urging them to buy tickets to the Oct. 23 Bears-Buccaneers game in London. The league had previously stated that if the lockout did not end by Aug. 1, that game would be moved to Tampa.

The email from English fans included this statement from the NFL’s lead negotiator Jeff Pash: "The principles have done their jobs, the commissioner and Mr. Smith and the owners and players have done their work. Now it’s up to us to get things properly documented, identifying any remaining points that need to be cleared up and keep driving this process toward a conclusion."

How close is a deal?

We’re first-and-goal. The NFLPA still hopes to vote on a new collective bargaining agreement Wednesday. If the players vote in favor of a deal, the plan is to recertify a union.

That would leave owners are meeting Thursday in Atlanta, where it is hoped they will vote on the deal. At least 24 of 32 owners must vote in favor of the deal for it to be ratified. If that happens, the lockout could be lifted by Friday. There would likely be a three-day window for teams to re-sign their own free agents, which would begin on Monday. Free agency would likely begin July 28.

In another positive sign, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Bears single-game tickets would go on sale July 28.
All of that sounds great, but none of it would happen before a deal was done. Even if the deal is completed this week, it is uncertain if training camps will open as scheduled, or if the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame game between the Bears and Rams in Canton, Ohio can be saved.

If negotiations were to last beyond this week, the first week of the preseason would be in serious jeopardy, which could mean around $200 million in lost revenue.

However, most players remained optimistic. Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who will be a free agent, tweeted Tuesday, "Lockout is almost over."

Fans hoped Edwards was correct.