WASHINGTON - Are you ready for some football?
The NFL lockout appears to be on the brink of ending after owners and players agreed early Monday to the terms of a deal to end the labor dispute. Players were expected to begin their voting process later in the day, two people familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press.
The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the process was supposed to remain secret and no formal announcement had been made.
The NFL, citing multiple unnamed sources on its website, said the league came to "an agreement on basic terms" with the players and concluded talks at 3 a.m. Monday.
The NFL Players Association's executive committee was to meet at its headquarters in Washington on Monday so it could be presented with the finalized agreement. NFLPA president Kevin Mawae arrived shortly after 9:30 a.m.
Owners overwhelmingly approved a proposal last week, but some unresolved issues still needed to be figured out to satisfy players; the owners do not need to vote again.
The league's old labor deal expired in March, and the owners locked out the players, the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987.
"We have every reason to believe it's going to be a good day," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an email to the AP.
If players sign off on the agreement Monday, NFL clubs would be able to start signing 2011 draft picks and rookie free agents on Tuesday. Conversations with veteran free agents also could start Tuesday, and signings could begin Friday.
Under that tentative schedule, training camps would open for 10 of the 32 teams on Wednesday, 10 teams on Thursday, another 10 teams on Friday, and the last two teams on Sunday.
The major economic framework for the deal was worked out more than a week ago.
That included how the more than $9 billion in annual league revenues will be divided (about 53 percent to owners and 47 percent to players over the next decade; the old CBA resulted in nearly a 50-50 split); a per-club cap of about $120 million for salary and bonuses in 2011 and at least that in 2012 and 2013 plus about $22 million for benefits; a salary system to rein in spending on first-round draft picks; and unrestricted free agency for most players after four seasons.
Should the players' executive committee vote to accept the deal, it then would go to the 32 team representatives to approve, perhaps later Monday. After that, the total membership would need to vote, with a simple majority required for passage.
The 10 named plaintiffs in the players' lawsuit against the league including Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees must officially inform the court in Minneapolis of their approval of the pact, too.
Even after that, while training camps would be opened, a formal collective bargaining agreement can't be fully set in place until the NFLPA re-establishes itself as a union. The NFLPA said it was rejecting its union status in March and becoming a trade association; that allowed the players to file their antitrust suit.
Players will need to vote to OK re-forming the union even as the sides put the finishing touches on a deal. Legal protections will be put in place so the NFLPA can start negotiating such items as the league's personal conduct policy and drug testing as soon as Monday.
CBSSports.com's Clark Judge says that the turning point in the whole process was either the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals' support of the permanent stay of U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson's injunction lifting the lockout, or it's the Eighth Circuit's verdict that failed to lift the lockout.
"Normally, you'd say it's the latter," Judge writes, "but the court went so far in its first decision it told us -- and NFL players -- what was going to happen next."