Labour deal appears headed for resolution

Two people familiar with talks to end the NFL lockout tell The Associated Press that if an agreement is ratified by Thursday, team executives will be briefed starting that day on how the deal’s terms affect league business.

Two people familiar with talks to end the NFL lockout tell The Associated Press that if an agreement is ratified by Thursday, team executives will be briefed starting that day on how the deal’s terms affect league business.

The people said the league’s 32 clubs were told Monday that topics would include the rookie salary system and guidelines for player transactions. They spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the process is supposed to remain confidential.

Owners are scheduled to hold a special meeting in Atlanta on Thursday, when they could ratify a new labour contract — if one is reached by then. Club executives would be briefed in Atlanta on Thursday and Friday.

Any tentative agreement also must be approved by players, 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 NFL Players Association’s executive committee and representatives of every team were heading to Washington by Wednesday, in preparation for a possible vote.

NFLPA spokesman George 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.”

Lawyers for the NFLPA and owners met Monday at a Manhattan law firm to work on ending the four-month lockout, the sport’s first work stoppage since 1987.

They were joined in the afternoon by the court-appointed mediator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan.

“The lawyers are hard at work in New York with the language and some of the things we agreed to last week,” Atallah said in Washington.

“As for face-to-face meetings between the principals, we will do that as necessary.”

One issue standing in the way of a resolution, according to one person from each side of the dispute who also spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity: Players want owners to turn over US$320 million in benefits that weren’t paid during 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.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith spoke to each other on the telephone Monday and were planning to keep in regular contact.

At federal court in Minnesota, where the players’ antitrust suit is pending, their lawyers filed a motion asking for a summary judgment that the lockout is illegal and that players are entitled to damages. The NFL, meanwhile, asked the court for a week’s extension to file their formal response to the lawsuit; the original deadline was Monday.

Those filings were necessary, procedural moves — ones that would be rendered moot if an agreement is reached before the Aug. 29 hearing date in Minnesota.

Atallah called the players’ filing “an obligation to protect the members of the class.”

“Obviously, if we come to a settlement, it all can be lifted at any time,” he said.

Players and owners have come up with the framework of an agreement that resolves most of their differences.

The areas they’ve figured out include:

— how the more than $9 billion in annual league revenues will be divided, with somewhere from 46.5 to 48.5 per cent 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 about another $20 million per team in benefits.

The lockout began March 12, when negotiations broke down and the old CBA expired. The NFLPA announced it was dissolving itself and would no longer be a union that could bargain for all players under labour law, instead saying it was now a trade association. That allowed players to take their chances against the NFL in federal court under antitrust law.

The sides are trying to forge a new deal in time to keep the pre-season completely intact. The exhibition opener is scheduled to be the Hall of Fame game between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears on Aug. 7, and as of Sunday, no pre-season games had been cancelled.

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

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