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Owners, players reach agreement on economics of labor deal (4180 hits)

By Albert Breer

NEW YORK -- Following a breakthrough in negotiations between NFL owners and players, it now appears the economics of a new collective bargaining agreement essentially are done.

The parties closed in on an agreement on the rookie compensation system Thursday, the single biggest benchmark of progress over the last two weeks of talks. A lot of details remain, though it's hard to envision those left standing in the way of a labor deal.

The sides arrived for Friday's negotiations at 9 a.m., with an eye on building off momentum gathered during Thursday's marathon session. The date -- July 15 -- is significant because it's an internal deadline to save the preseason in its normal form that has sat for months. With the league's objective of presenting the full ownership group a completed proposal in Atlanta next Thursday, that deadline might be flexible, but the urgency has been turned up.

The plan is for talks to continue to chip away at some of the remaining issues throughout the meeting Friday, then work via conference call over the weekend before owners and players reconvene for their scheduled mediation before U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan in Minnesota on Tuesday, sources with knowledge of the situation told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora.

While the institution of rookie compensation system is a concession in itself, the players' side gave a little more in allowing some rules preventing the renegotiation of draft picks' deals until after three years. The owners' concessions came on the price tag for the fifth-year option for first-round picks, which the players want paid at the top of the market.

With that hurdle cleared, two sources said, "We're not there yet," on Thursday night, and one referred to the remaining issues as "real stumbling blocks."

The remaining issues between the owners and players are being dealt with collectively, according to an involved source. The process isn't linear, and the parties aren't simply checking items off a list, with each issue affecting others.

Primary among the unresolved problems are the Legacy Fund (retirees benefits), player safety, the appeals process for player discipline, worker's compensation and injury guarantees in contracts. Litigation entanglements also must be addressed.

The parties must work on language to settle the Brady antitrust suit and any plaintiff damages, as well as address the looming decision by Judge David Doty in the television rights fee case. And no deal can be complete until the owners and players address the issue of whether now, and how, the NFL Players Association re-constitutes as a labor union.

But the major tenets of the deal are in place. Whether the full terms in principle are completed this weekend or next week, there's a prevailing sense from both parties that the sides are finally nearing an agreement.

Just as the owners need to vote on an agreement, the players do as well. It's a point that NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith made upon his arrival to Friday's meeting.

"I know our fans are frustrated and want to get it done," Smith said. "We'll get everything to the players when the time is right."

Based on Thursday's progress, which followed a tough Wednesday between players and owners and two difficult negotiation days the previous week, there is a feeling that the owners' goal of a July 21 vote is increasingly realistic.

With that push as the backdrop, the league group grew by one Friday with the arrival of Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown. The league labor committee now has nine of 10 members present, with co-chair Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos still in Hawaii on Thursday. Bowlen was trying to arrange to reach New York and has been participating via conference call.

The players' group also grew by one, with Houston Texans offense tackle Eric Winston joining.

The owners and players put several issues to bed Thursday before breaking for the night, according to sources with direct knowledge of the talks. Those issues included re-addressing the commissioner's power via discipline. A panel of former judges will oversee special master and other decisions, but specifically how commissioner discipline issues are appealed hasn't yet been resolved, though it's "trending" toward a decision, sources said.

Salary-cap details also became clear. The 2011 projected cap will be roughly $123 million, according to sources, but as a practical matter will "feel" more like $130 million to teams when cap credits and new cap exceptions are factored. Teams will have to spend, in cash, 90 percent to the cap minimum and league-wide spending will be pegged at 99 percent to the cap.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer
Posted By: Elly Moss
Friday, July 15th 2011 at 3:49PM
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