Players approve agreement with NFL owners

July 25, 2011|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

The NFL lockout is officially over, ending 133 days of frustration and confusion for owners, players and football fans.

The players' leadership group announced it has recommended approving a deal with the owners, which means both sides have agreed on a 10-year collective bargaining agreement that provides a new split of the $9.3 billion generated in annual revenues and shapes the league for the next decade.

The owners and the players struck an agreement in principle on the new CBA at 3 a.m. Sunday, but the players' 13-member executive committee -- which includes Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth -- still had to review and vote on the deal.

Resolving the league's first work stoppage in 24 years allows the first full week of preseason to be played on time. Training camp and free agency, which has been on hold since March, are both expected to begin this week in what should be one of the most frenetic periods in NFL history. The Ravens are scheduled to open camp Wednesday, according to the NFL Network.

"Big smile," Foxworth posted on Twitter. "Football is back."

"This is a good day for the NFL, all of its members and fans of our league. I congratulate the Commissioner (Roger Goodell) and the Players Association leadership for reaching this agreement," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said in a news release. "We're excited to have the players coming back to our facility in Owings Mills, and we know the coaches are chomping at the bit to get the team ready for the season. I salute our Ravens players for the way they handled this process, particularly Domonique Foxworth, who was instrumental in getting this agreement completed.

"We want to thank our business partners, suiteholders and season ticket holders for sticking with us during the lockout. Your faith and financial support in us is greatly appreciated. I'd also like to give a salute to members of our Ravens family, who continued to work hard and be productive in recent months. We'll be ready for training camp and the season. It's time for football."

Goodell said the work is far from over, especially with the sport's fan base.

"We know what we did to frustrate our fans over the last several months," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "We think through a 10-year agreement that we secured the future of the game to ensure that pledge to bring great football to our fans. I think we have some work to do, though, to make sure they understand that we're sorry for the frustration we put them through the last six months."

Goodell added, "But our commitment is to bring them better football going forward. I think we have to make sure we understand that our bond with our fans is probably the primary issue that all of us have to keep focus on whether you're a player, whether you're an owner or whether you're a commissioner."

The league's old labor deal expired in March, and the owners have locked out the players ever since. The past four months have been a trying period for the league, from a handful of court cases to exhaustive negotiating sessions to head-scratching twists.

On Thursday, the owners overwhelmingly voted 31-0 to approve a collective bargaining agreement and announced a tentative schedule to end the lockout. But the players said they never received the final documents on the owner-approved CBA and couldn't vote until they could review it.

The sides worked through the weekend and wrapped up talks Monday morning, a source told the Associated Press.

Teams are expected to begin signing draft picks and undrafted rookie free agents Tuesday. Talks with veteran free agents can start today, but signings likely won't become official until Friday. The Ravens' priority in free agency is offensive lineman Marshal Yanda.

A tentative schedule has teams reporting Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Ravens players typically report to training camp at the end of July.

The Ravens are scheduled to begin their preseason at Philadelphia in three weeks and open the regular season against rival Pittsburgh at M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 11.

The biggest fallout for the Ravens has been the relocation of training camp from McDaniel College. With the uncertainty surrounding the lockout, the team will hold closed practices at its Owings Mills headquarters, which wasn't built to accommodate thousands of fans.

Ravens officials have talked about public workouts at M&T Bank Stadium, but they haven't announced any dates.

There are more sweeping changes with the league itself. The new CBA gives players a little less than half of the sport's revenue (about 46.5 percent to 48 percent) and restores the league back to a salary-cap system. The NFL will require teams to spend over 90 percent of the annual salary cap and implement a rookie wage scale to reduce the amount of guaranteed money in first-year players' contracts.

The agreement keeps the regular season at 16 games and reduces the number of offseason workouts as well as the amount of hitting in those practices. It also reverts back to the previous free-agency system, where players become unrestricted free agents with four seasons of NFL experience.

"I think now everybody has kind of realized that there was a lot of worrying for nothing," Ravens cornerback Chris Carr said last week as the sides were nearing a deal. "I don't think the season was ever really in jeopardy."

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