Over the last few weeks, we've been told repeatedly that a deal to resolve the NFL lockout is just around the corner. For a while, we were looking forward to July 4th. Last week, I had a source tell me that a deal would be approved on Wednesday, or Sunday at the latest. Then we thought the players would vote to approve a deal yesterday, and that the owners would do so today. As of now (1:30 pm EDT) the owners have not yet voted. So what are the major stumbling blocks here?
1) There is a lawsuit out there! The players and owners might agree to a new collective bargaining agreement, but Brady v. NFL still looms. There aren't any court dates in the immediate future, but the lawsuit has to be resolved somehow. Recently, we're hearing reports that Logan Mankins and Vincent Jackson (two other named plaintiffs in the class action) want payouts of $10 million each to drop their claims. I think such a bonanza is unlikely. But regardless of any "bonus" for the two of them, the lawsuit needs to be settled, separate and apart from the CBA.
2) What happens to the NFLPA? Remember, NFLPA has been operating as a trade association, not a union, since March. And, if you believe Gene Upshaw, the former head of the NFLPA, the NFLPA only existed as a "union" after the last lawsuit because the owners insisted on it. They players would prefer to remain a "trade association" so that they can have the leverage of a future antitrust lawsuit against the owners. (Remember, they lost on appeal because they had been a union.) For similar reasons, the owners will want to force the players to reconstitute the union. I suspect the union will re-form, but that there will be language that allows them to "decertify" or "disclaim interest" in a future labor fight.
3) Voting is messy. 24 of 32 owners and 50%+1 of the the 1900-or-so players will need to approve the deal. Keeping the owners in line should be fairly easy. Keeping tabs on almost 2000 players, dispersed around the country, is going to be harder. There is nothing to suggest that there will be a mass defection from among the players' ranks, but we have seen before that things don't go as planned.
4) Dotting is and crossing ts. There are still details to work out, such as the specifics of the franchise tag, the particulars of how the players' union will re-form, the looming lawsuit regarding TV revenues, whether the settlement of the lawsuits would be by "consent decree" -- meaning that the courts have continued oversight of the case -- and so on. These details are not, in and of themselves, major, but my guess is that the two sides will try to score minor points with these last few issues.
I think we're closer to a deal than we've been in a long time. I'm particularly glad that the Eighth Circuit's ruling seems not to have derailed talks. But there is definitely work left to get done.
UPDATE: As noted above, the owners approved the CBA. The vote was 31-0, with the Oakland Raiders abstaining. (Really?) Here are some key provisions of the new CBA, as reported by ESPN:
• This would be a ten-year deal, running through the end of the 2020 season. The current league year would begin next week, although I've seen reports that team facilities would be open as early as Saturday. (Note, the owners' vote is contingent on the union re-forming and approving the deal.)
• You might recall that the split of total revenues was an issue. The players are now going to get a smaller percentage (48% in early years, as opposed to the mid-50s), but the owners will not get a cut off the top for expenses. (Last year they took $1bn of the $9bn to cover expenses, and divided the rest.)
• The salary cap will start at $120 million with a minimum of $106.8M
• Veterans earn free agency after fourth season
• Rookie contracts will start lower, be subject to a cap, and will last for four years (with a team option for the fifth year).
• Training camp and OTAs are scaled back.
As to the franchise tag, the issue for players like Manning was that they had been franchised once already. The players wanted a rule that a player could be franchised only once in his career. It doesn't look like that's part of the final deal.
By the way, in fairness, I should say that Logan Mankin's agent has said that he is not holding up a deal and that reports to the contrary are incorrect. Vincent Jackson, too, is denying such reports. I'm not sure where those rumors got started, but I'm happy to set the record straight.