NFL owners okay deal, but lockout lingers

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces that NFL owners have agreed to a tentative agreement that would end the lockout, pending player approval, July 21, 2011, in College Park, Ga., as Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson looks on in the background. AP Photo/John Bazemore

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. - The way NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke about club owners' overwhelming approval of a tentative decade-long agreement to end the lockout, he might as well have been yelling, "Are you ready for some football?!"

Not so fast, fans. The deal's not done yet.

Yes, owners voted 31-0 — the Oakland Raiders abstained — on a proposal that would have put the country's most popular sport back in business, provided players re-establish their union and sign off on the deal. And there's the catch: Players didn't vote Thursday, saying they had not seen the full proposal.

"How can we hold a vote on something that we haven't seen the finished product of?" Buffalo Bills player rep George Wilson said in a telephone interview. "Ultimately, the guys felt like this thing is being force-fed to us; that it's being shoved down our throats."

Wilson also sounded a more optimistic note, adding: "I don't think this deal is blown up. We can definitely work through these issues."

Soon after the owners' vote, following nine hours of discussions — and a couple of breaks for food — at an Atlanta-area hotel, the league issued a press release announcing: "NFL clubs approved today the terms of a comprehensive settlement of litigation and a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association."

It didn't take long for NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith to email team reps to say: "Issues that need to be collectively bargained remain open; other issues, such as workers' compensation, economic issues and end of deal terms, remain unresolved. There is no agreement between the NFL and the players at this time."

Shortly thereafter, players held a conference call and decided not to vote.

Owners believe recertification can be done immediately. Players believe it could take up to two weeks, reports CBSSports.com's Clark Judge.

Goodell and Smith, who was at NFLPA headquarters in Washington, talked on the phone several times Thursday. Both sides also talked Thursday to the court-appointed mediator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are supposed to remain secret.

Once their vote was completed, Goodell, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash and various owners talked glowingly about the deal — and an anticipated return to the field.

"Hopefully, we can all work quickly, expeditiously, to get this agreement done," Goodell said. "It is time to get back to football. That's what everybody here wants to do."

But several players took to Twitter, expressing opposition to the proposal. Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark wrote: "The owners want u to believe that they have been extremely fair everywhere and this is their 'olive branch' to finalize it."

Owners exercised an opt-out clause in the old collective bargaining agreement in 2008, setting the stage for the recent labor impasse. The new deal does not contain an opt-out clause.

The four-month lockout is the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987. And as a result, this season's exhibition opener was canceled Thursday — the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame game between Chicago and St. Louis in Canton, Ohio.

"The time was just too short," Goodell said. "Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to play the game this year."

If players approve the agreement, team facilities would open Saturday, and the new league year would begin Wednesday, with full free agency and opening of training camps.

"I can't say we got everything we wanted to get in the deal," New York Giants owner John Mara said. "I'm sure (players) would say the same thing. ... The best thing about it is our fans don't have to hear about labor-management relations for another 10 years."

The owners' meeting near Atlanta's airport lasted most of the day — including breaks for lunch and dinner. Black limousines that lined up outside at midafternoon wound up waiting and waiting for owners to emerge. More than 100 members of the media packed into the lobby and lined the hallways leading to the conference room where the owners met behind closed doors.

After word of the owners' vote emerged, one fan at the hotel, Dave Gower of Knoxville, Tenn., said: "Finally. I don't understand why it took so long. I hope the players take it and run with it."

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