The NFL and its players are on the verge of a 10-year agreement that will keep the league in business -- and out of the court rooms -- through the 2020 season. All that's left to end the lockout is for the players' executive board to approve the deal. Then they can return to work, vote to recertify as a union and approve a new CBA -- presumably, with all of that happening this week.
Hallelujah. So how did they get here, and what does it mean? Keep reading.
What owners gained
• A greater share of all revenues. Under the old system, they lopped off $1 billion from the top, with players picking up 60 percent of the rest and 50 percent of all revenue. Under the new agreement, there is nothing lopped off the top, with owners absorbing no more than 53 percent of the revenue. If, as some figures predict, the NFL becomes a $20 billion industry by 2020 you can see why this makes for good business.
• No opt out -- at least for now. Players are still holding out for one, apparently after the eighth season of the proposed deal, but there is no indication it'll happen. And if it doesn't? That means labor peace for the next 10 years. "I think the best thing about it," said New York Giants' co-owner and president John Mara, "is that our fans don't have to hear about management/labor relations for 10 years."
• No judicial oversight. Neutral arbitrators jointly appointed by the NFL and NFLPA will resolve disputes as appropriate. Translation: Say goodnight to Judge David Doty.
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• Settlement of all pending litigation. So that's it for Tom Brady vs. the NFL, Doty and TV damages, summary judgments, you name it. Court is out of session.
• A rookie wage system. It's not a rookie wage scale, but it might as well be. First-round draft picks sign four-year deals, with a fifth at the option of the club. Plus, there are "strong" anti-holdout rules, as the league put it. Bottom line: More money will go to the guys who deserve it -- veterans and retirees.
• More equitable supplemental revenue sharing. This is the small market vs. big market battle, and it was an issue the last time these two sides locked horns. In fact, it was such a significant one that it helped convince disgruntled owners to opt out after two years. This is a better deal, and here's how we know: Buffalo's Ralph Wilson signed off on it.
• No losses of games, other than the Hall of Fame preseason opener. That's big because an estimated $200 million would've been sacrificed with one weekend of missed preseason games. The last two times we had work stoppages -- the strikes of 1982 and 1987 -- the league lost at least one regular-season game. This time it sacrificed only the Bears-Rams exhibition opener.
• Credit for actual stadium investment and up to 1.5 percent of revenue each year. That is a big concession for players, who understand that new stadiums produce additional revenue, which allows the business to grow and its partners to flourish.
What they didn't
• Another $1 billion off the top of all revenue. The league went into negotiations in March looking for an additional $1 billion of credit off the top of the $9.2 billion the game generates, but it never happened. In fact, that $1 billion the league took off the top last season? That's gone, too.
• An 18-game season. OK, the league said, "until at least 2013." But here's the key: "Any subsequent increase in the number of regular-season games," owners said in a prepared statement, "must be made by agreement with the NFL Players Association." Uh-oh. Prepare the battlefield for 2013.
• Rights of first refusal for this year's unrestricted free agents. That would have limited the movement of players and, essentially, made them transition players. Players stood fast and won. Under the schedule proposed last week by owners, teams would've had a 72-hour window to negotiate with their unrestricted free agents. Now it's not clear what that schedule will be.
What players gained
• No more $1 billion cut for owners off the top of all revenues. Owners wanted to take $2 billion this time. Players said, "No can do." So owners complied, gaining a greater percentage of all revenues instead. What they didn't get, though, was knocking players down to what once looked like 42 percent of revenues, with a decreasing percentage each year. That is big.
• Minimum salaries raised $55,000 to $375,000 in the first year and $450,000 in the second.
• No 18-game schedule. Commissioner Roger Goodell pushed for it before negotiations began, but it became apparent it wasn't going to fly. So owners dropped the idea ... at least for the time being. They said they will not return to it until 2013 but won't do anything without the consent of players.
• Vast improvements in player safety, including the reductions of offseason programs by five weeks, with OTAs cut from 14 to 10, the limiting of on-field practice time and contact, the limiting of full-contact practices in preseason and the regular season, the elimination of two-a-day practices and an increase in the numbers of days off. Talk about an immediate impact. Last year four clubs were guilty of violating OTA rules.
• Increased injury protection. Players under contract once gained $325,000 in injury protection the year after they were hurt. Now, that vaults to $1 million in the first year after injury and up to $500,000 the second.
• Unrestricted free agency after four years. It was six years in 2010 because it was an uncapped year, and prospective free agents like Logan Mankins and Vincent Jackson suffered. So now we're back to where we were before, which should make a lot of four-year veterans not only happy but rich.
• An opportunity to remain in the players' medical plan for life. Ask anyone who has a family how important this is.
• Beginning in 2012, 55 percent of national media revenue, 45 percent of all NFL Ventures revenue and 40 percent of local club revenue.
• League-wide commitment to cash spending of 99 percent of the cap in 2011 and 2012, with each club spending 89 percent for the 2013-20 -- up from 87.6.
• Rosters increased from 80 to 90 players. So what? So that means more jobs.
• Substantial increases in benefits for retired players, with additional funding over the next 10 years of between $900,000 and $1 billion. The largest single amount, $620 million, is devoted to a "Legacy Fund" which is set up to increase pensions for pre-1993 retirees.
What they didn't
• Court momentum. Until now, there was a feeling that the legal system served as a home-field advantage for players. Wherever they met the NFL they seemed to gain favorable judgments. Then the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals appeared, and, suddenly, the streak stopped. Not only did owners score a decisive victory; they gained invaluable leverage that helped bring the lockout to a close.
• Settlement of all pending litigation. The Brady vs. NFL case would have been intriguing to see play out, with players charging the league with antitrust violations. That won't happen now.
• No opt out ... at least for now. No wonder it took players time to digest what they were just served. They must live with it the next 10 years. The last time there was a settlement between owners and the NFLPA it took management two years to figure out they didn't like what they signed. So they opted out and just settled on a better deal. Players want that flexibility, too, but there was no breakthrough as of Sunday afternoon.
• Percentage of revenues. Once players had 50 percent of all revenues. Now, they have at least 47 percent, though no money ($1 billion) is taken off the top for owners.
First, the players' executive committee must approve the proposed agreement. That could put players in NFL buildings by Tuesday. Then, players must vote to recertify as a union and have that union approve a new CBA. The league had a proposed calendar that was torn up this weekend, and what's ahead is anyone's guess. Nothing has been finalized, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that we're looking at a compressed schedule, with this week a potential tsunami of activity. Remember, the league doesn't want to flush the first weekend of preseason games, so everything is on the fast track this week.
• The NFL lawyer(s) who thought up the idea to use the Norris-LaGuardia Act -- a 1932 law enacted to protect employees -- to support employers' use of a lockout. In essence, the move saved the NFL a lot of embarrassment because it was Norris-LaGuardia that compelled the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn an injunction lifting the lockout -- with judges saying the lockout was a labor dispute, not an antitrust issue. "From a purely intellectual perspective," said Geoffrey Rapp, professor at the University of Toledo's School of Law, "I suppose I'd say I find the court's use of the Norris-LaGuardia Act intriguing. The history here is that the antitrust law was enacted to break up monopolies; its primary use before Norris-LaGuardia was to bust unions. It's ironic that the Norris-LaGuardia Act, adopted to protect unions, is now being used to protect billionaire monopolists." Yeah, well, I'd say some attorney just earned his fee.
• Players like Jeff Saturday and Domonique Foxworth, members of the players' executive committee who, as one source close to the players said, "worked their asses off" during this process. As a center, the Colts' Saturday doesn't get much attention -- except, that is, when he's making commercials with Peyton Manning. That changed the past four months. It's time he and Foxworth take a bow.
• NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith -- The mark of a good negotiator is knowing when to cut a deal. Smith made the move after the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt players a severe setback, agreeing with commissioner Roger Goodell to resume negotiations at clandestine spots. It was critical someone take charge then, and Smith did. In the end, it shortened what could have been a much longer stalemate.
Take your pick: It's 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, but the court went so far in its first decision it told us -- and NFL players -- what was going to happen next. It's no coincidence negotiations began to move and progress was made once the Eighth Circuit was engaged. Players got the message: The legal system that was supposed to support them suddenly and unexpectedly threw down a roadblock, forcing players to re-think their strategy. So they did, meeting with owners in clandestine locations to resume negotiations, with the first taking place shortly before oral arguments were made before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. "The decision lifting an injunction was absolutely a game-changer in these negotiations," said Rapp. "As long as the players had hope the lockout would be prohibited by the courts they could choose to continue at essentially no cost to themselves. Once the appellate court made it clear that the lockout would not be prohibited that made the reality of a potential lost season sink in for the players."
• Fans – Fantasy football owners, rejoice. You're back in business. "I think all of us will bear the responsibility [for the lockout] if we're not able to come up with solutions," Goodell told Tennessee fans in a conference call this spring. Well, this just in: They just came up with the solutions. Someone start the parade in Seattle. Fans there have can fill the rest of the summer with something other than fish tosses at Pike Place Market and another Mariners' loss.
• Lawyers -- They scored a bigger haul than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II. Based on the billing hours accrued for over 130 days of a lockout, I figure each attorney has enough money now to make a down payment on the state of Texas.
• Jeff Pash, general counsel for the NFL -- When Paul Tagliabue stepped down as NFL commissioner, he was mentioned as a candidate to replace him. Now you can see why. He is smart. He is articulate. He is direct. Most of all, he is unruffled, an invaluable trait considering what he and the NFL just went through.
• NFL commissioner Roger Goodell -- So he took direct hits from players. Big deal. Talk is cheap. It was Goodell who helped get talks back on track, reaching out to Smith in the wake of the Eighth Circuit Court's permanent stay to push the two sides back to the bargaining table. Goodell always had a reputation as a consensus builder; now he has one as a peacemaker, too. Yes, the NFL imposed the lockout, but it was Goodell who pushed to end it in the wake of a critical court victory.
• NFLPA executive director Demaurice Smith -- Once upon a time, I thought he ceded control of negotiations to the NFLPA's attorneys -- specifically, Jeffrey Kessler. Attorneys initially convinced Smith to go through the courts to get what players deserved, which wasn't unreasonable considering their history of success, and the strategy worked ... until the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals came along. That's when Smith re-emerged, leading players back to the bargaining table, and that's when progress was made. In the end, he made significant advances for players, especially in the wake of a significant court setback. More than that, he gained the confidence of players and the respect of owners for doing what he could to put football back on the field.
• Retired players -- They gain between $900 million and $1 billion in additional funding over the next 10 years, with $620 million of it used for the "Legacy Fund," which will be devoted to increasing pensions for pre-1993 retirees.
• Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams -- The lockout cost them a fifth preseason game, and let's be real here: There is no downside to losing that. Once a scrimmage, always a scrimmage. You think I'm kidding? Talk to head coaches. They loathe the idea of five preseason games. Quick now, tell me who played in last year's Hall of Fame game. See what I mean? That's how important it is.
• First-year head coaches -- There are eight of them, including Leslie Frazier and Jason Garrett, who took over during midseason in 2010, which means that's eight playbooks that need to be passed out. They didn't have a chance to evaluate personnel. They don't know who's hurt and who's not. They have no idea what condition your players are in. They haven't made trades or released anyone. And they haven't held one team meeting or workout. Now, the kicker: They have six to seven weeks to get ready for a season. Good luck. I guess that's why these guys make the big bucks.
• Rookie quarterbacks -- Peyton Manning was 3-13 as a rookie, and that was after he went through mini-camps, training camp and team meetings. There's a lesson there for the Cam Newtons, Jake Lockers and Andy Daltons of the world, and the message is this: Fasten your seat belts, guys; it's going to be a bumpy ride.
• All teams with first-year head coaches and rookie quarterbacks -- It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out what happens when you put the two together. I mean, Troy Aikman was 0-11 as a rookie. John Elway had twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. Eli Manning produced a passer rating of 0.00. Quarterbacking is a tough, tough business, and it takes time. Unfortunately, time is what neither quarterbacks nor their coaches have now.
• The Hall of Fame and the town of Canton, Ohio -- Canceling the preseason opener cost the Hall an estimated $1.5 million from its $20 million annual operating budget. Of course, it cost the people of Canton much more. "We have more than 4,000 volunteers in the community who help with the events," said the Hall's Joe Horrigan, a vice president with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "So there are people who have been working with us very hard on game preparation. That's their event. They're very disappointed."
• The Pittsburgh Steelers -- The AFC champions are supposed to be the model of decorum and stability. OK, so decorum just pulled a DNF. Rashard Mendenhall took advantage of the lockout to audition as a social historian, and that didn't work out so well. James Harrison followed by trashing the commissioner, Mendenhall and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a Men's Journal article that underscored the value of a team's public relations department. It can serve as a filter, keeping guys like Harrison from behaving like idiots. I mean, who thought it was a good idea to pose with a pair of revolvers for a full-page photo? Then there was the Hines Ward DUI arrest, and, yeah, I know, he said the facts don't square up. Still, we expect more from Ward.
• HBO's Hard Knocks -- It was a runaway hit with the New York Jets last summer. Now, it can't find a taker. Wow, a summer without Mad Men, Hard Knocks and the Yankees in first place. What's next? No Charlie Sheen for Two and a Half Men?
• Kevin Kolb, quarterback, Philadelphia -- Were there no lockout, he not only would've been traded; he would've been with his new team for months, working out with coaches while digesting a new playbook. Kolb is the most desirable quarterback on the market, and the Eagles will trade him. The only question is: Where? While Kolb sits and waits, he can think about this: He will have no more than six weeks to get ready for a new season with new teammates.
• Coaches -- I can't imagine how Mike Singletary could've abided by the new safety rules if were coaching the 49ers again. You must reduce your OTAs. You can't have back-to-back padded practices. There are no two-a-days in training camp. Players get more time off. Finally, finally, finally, someone gets the idea that maybe, just maybe, less is more when it comes to player safety.
• Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina -- A year ago, Sam Bradford picked up $50 million in guaranteed money before taking a snap. That won't happen again. Not after the league proposed an entry-level system that drops rookie spending an estimated 40 percent and institutes strong anti-holdout rules.
• Jeffrey Kessler, NFLPA lead counsel -- He is shrewd, tough and persuasive. Plus, he has been successful in past dealings with the NFL. But not this time. Players lost a critical decision at the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Kessler seemed to lose some of his juice within the NFLPA with it. Afterward, it was Smith who took control, steering players back to the bargaining table, while Kessler seemed to take a step backward. Nevertheless, I'll say this: It was Kessler who was there at the end to close the deal, with sources close to negotiations saying he fought for what he thought was right. He did what he was hired to do, and he held fast to the finish.
• Vincent Jackson, wide receiver, San Diego -- He was the last one to sign off on pending litigation, but that didn't happen until Friday. In the meantime, Jackson took some heat from his peers, with some convinced he kept talks from going forward. In the end, of course, none of it matters. A deal will be made, players will return to work and Jackson will make millions.
Tweet to remember
"Man, I'm exhausted with all the CBA talks. I just want to play football again."
New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who sounded like -- and this is not a misprint -- the voice of reason for much of the lockout.
Tweet to forget
"Look, guys, I have no reason to lie. We were tricked, duped, led astray, hoodwinked and bamboozled." That was Washington's Vonnie Holliday immediately after owners made their 10-year proposal. Then players sat down, looked at what they had and realized, gee, this isn't so bad after all. In fact, two days after Holliday said he and his colleagues were "tricked" and "duped," players reached a tentative agreement.