Wednesday, July 20, 2011

With N.F.L. Deal in Sight, Each Side Can Claim Gains

With N.F.L. Deal in Sight, Each Side Can Claim Gains
owners and players closed in on an agreement in principle Tuesday night on an expected 10-year labor contract. It would ensure that the 16-game season starts on time, give owners a bigger portion of revenue and limit how much money rookies can make.

The deal, coming after four months of litigation and federally overseen negotiation, would end a sometimes rancorous fight that included the longest work stoppage in the league’s history.
The agreement would have a wide range of major changes for players and owners, according to a number of people briefed on the negotiations, including:

¶ A revenue split in which players are expected to receive between 46 and 48 percent of all revenue each year, below the 50-50 formula in the previous deal. Owners said that figure cut so deeply into their margins that it threatened to limit future investment in the game.

¶ A new rookie wage system in which even the top picks in the 2011 draft could sign contracts worth about half of what the top picks signed for in 2010, a concession by players.

¶ Strict limits on the number and intensity of off-season and training camp workouts, including a rule that would all but eliminate the traditional two-a-day practices in training camp — player-safety issues that were especially important to players.

¶ Nearly $1 billion for improved benefits for retired players, a flashpoint for a league that has been battered by criticism for failing to help ailing retired players.

No games would be missed this season. Training camps would open over the next week, and the regular season would start Sept. 8 at Green Bay.

Players and owners must still vote to ratify the agreement. Players, who will also re-form the union they dissolved when talks broke off in March, are expected to vote as soon as Wednesday; owners will do the same at a meeting in Atlanta on Thursday.

But a flurry of last-minute trading Monday and Tuesday all but eliminated the final few issues that stood in the way of an agreement. The antitrust lawsuit filed by players in March is expected to be withdrawn, one person briefed on the negotiations said.

The deal would give the owners what they wanted when they opted out of the old contract more than three years ago — a bigger slice of the revenue pie, which was more than $9 billion last season. But the agreement will most likely be viewed as more balanced than the old one, which even players acknowledged heavily favored them.

Because revenue is expected to rise sharply when new television contracts are completed in a few years, the amount of money available to players will rise substantially. The players’ revenue share is also several percentage points higher than owners had proposed in the earliest negotiations.

And in a boon for players, each team will be expected to be required to spend — in cash, not in tricky accounting — a total of 90 percent of the salary cap. This year, the cap is likely to be set at slightly more than $120 million. That was just below what it would have been in 2009 — the last year with a cap — before more money was added because it was the final year of the old collective bargaining agreement.

While there are likely to be people on both sides who do not like the new agreement — lower-revenue teams may worry about the mandatory amount of cash the new deal requires them to spend each year, and some players wanted to press on with the antitrust lawsuit in court — it is almost certain to win approval. Twenty-four of the 32 teams must vote for the deal, and a majority of players must vote yes.

Then, with the contentiousness of recent relations behind them, a flood of football will begin.

Players would be allowed to start reporting to their teams perhaps as soon as this weekend. Teams would probably have a few days to digest the new rules that will govern personnel moves, and probably early next week they will begin signing undrafted rookie players and re-signing their free agents.