Some discord emerged as NFL owners pored over a tentative deal to end the league’s labor dispute before an expected vote Thursday.
“I don’t see why we wouldn’t” vote on the proposed settlement, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said during a lunch break after more than three hours of discussions. “Like anything else, the morning gets a little ruined by not getting all the things you hoped to get when you hear the whole thing. I’m hopeful that eventually we can get a positive vote.”
The league has said it hopes to have an agreement ready for ratification on Thursday. At least 24 of 32 owners would need to OK the deal.
Players had been expected to vote Wednesday on a full proposal, but they didn’t.
“We continue to talk. There are some issues that are outstanding left to resolve,” NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith said shortly after 2:30 p.m.
Even after all acceptable terms are established, a deal would lead to a collective bargaining agreement only if NFL Players Association team reps recommend re-establishing the group as a union, which must be approved by a majority vote of the 1,900 players.
In March, when talks broke down and the old CBA expired, the NFLPA said it was dissolving itself as a union and instead becoming a trade association, a move that allowed Tom Brady and other players to sue the league under antitrust law. Only a union can sign off on a CBA.
“I certainly remember comments from some of the owners about how we might not even be like a real union. Well, guess what? The decision to decertify was important, because at the time we were a real union,” Smith said during a brief appearance outside NFLPA headquarters in Washington. “And the decision for our players, as men, to come back as a union is going to be an equally serious and very sober one that they have to make.”
The owners, who locked out players March 12, met behind closed doors at a hotel conference room near Atlanta’s airport, occasionally stepping within sight — but not earshot — of reporters to speak 1-on-1 with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He chatted first with Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, then with Arthur Blank of the Falcons.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll get approval,” Blank said Thursday morning on his way into the session. “My understanding is that the owners will have the opportunity to ratify the agreement today, even if the players do not approve it today.”
All 32 teams were represented, although not each one by an owner. The Patriots, for example, sent team president Jonathan Kraft. His father, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, missed the meeting because his wife, Myra, died Wednesday from cancer.
Remaining issues left to settle were believed to include how to set aside three pending court cases: The players’ antitrust lawsuit against the NFL in federal court in Minnesota; the TV networks case, in which players accused owners of setting up $4 billion in “lockout insurance,” money that the league would receive even if there were no games played in 2011; and a collusion case, in which players said owners conspired to restrict salaries last offseason.
Ten players — including quarterbacks Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson and Patriots guard Logan Mankins — filed their antitrust suit March 11. That was the day the country’s most popular sports league was thrown into limbo, and the owners locked out players hours later.
Also under discussion are how workman’s compensation claims will be resolved and the players’ demand that the NFL turn over $320 million in unpaid benefits from the 2010 season. Because there was no salary cap that season, the old CBA said NFL teams were not required to pay those benefits.
If the four-month lockout — the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987 — is going to end in time to keep the preseason completely intact, the players and owners almost certainly must ratify the deal this week. The St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears are scheduled to open the preseason Aug. 7 in the Hall of Fame game.
Asked Wednesday night whether that exhibition game will be played, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash replied: “It would be pretty challenging.”
AP National Writer Paul Newberry, AP Sports Writer Charles Odum and AP freelance writer Amy Jinkner-Lloyd in College Park, Ga., contributed to this to report.
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