ATLANTA — The NFL lockout was conditionally lifted Thursday evening after the league's owners voted to ratify a 10-year collective bargaining agreement. However, players immediately balked at the proposal and accused owners of approving settlement terms that were not negotiated.
Relief generated by the possibility that the 131-day lockout was all but over quickly dissolved when players reviewed the proposal that owners ratified by a count of 31-0 (with the Oakland Raiders abstaining).
"The owners have agreed on a deal we the players have not seen!" Washington Redskins union representative Vonnie Holliday wrote on his Twitter account Thursday night. "This is not consistent with where we thought we were yesterday!"
Holliday did not immediately return multiple phone messages.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell began an evening news conference by announcing the owners had approved an "agreement that was negotiated with the players."
"I think we've crafted a long-term agreement that can be good for the game of football," Goodell said. "It'll be good for the players, good for the clubs and most importantly good for our game and for our fans. We really are anxious to get back to football."
That's not going to happen just yet, despite the league's release of a timeline for resuming business. Union representatives from the league's 32 teams took part in a teleconference last night but did not vote on the owners' proposal.
"Issues that need to be collectively bargained remain open; other issues, such as workers' compensation, economic issues and end of deal terms, remain unresolved," NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith wrote in an email to the 32 representatives, according to the Associated Press.
In order to collectively bargain those issues, the NFLPA must recertify as a union. It decertified and became a trade association when talks broke down in March. It was a legal maneuver intended to block the league's lockout.
According to an ESPN report, the NFLPA informed player representatives that the owners' settlement offer requires them to recertify the union and provide evidence of that by Tuesday.
ESPN also reported that owners are requiring players to vote to ratify the proposal by Tuesday and complete the collective bargaining process by next Friday. If Friday's deadline is not met, those provisions would revert to how they were structured in the old CBA.
"Owners tried to pull a publicity stunt and trick us wit the same garbage deal from last time," free agent receiver Mike Sims-Walker tweeted.
By law, a CBA can be entered into only by a union, and a majority of the league's 1,900 players are required to vote in favor of recertification.
"The decision to decertify was important because at the time we were a real union,"Smith said Thursday outside the group's office in Washington. "And the decision for our players as men to come back as a union is going to be an equally serious and very sober one that they have to make."
Meanwhile, owners left Thursday's meeting with a sense of accomplishment.
They trumpeted their proposal for including an "all revenue" formula for dividing earnings, an entry-level compensation structure that controls wages for unproven players and provisions designed to improve player safety and benefits for retired players.
"I think it's a win-win for both sides," Redskins owner Daniel Snyder told The Washington Times after the vote. "I'm just excited about this season and getting going.
"The most important thing from my perspective is that it's a long-term deal. Both sides come out on top and together."
Under the terms of the owners' proposal, teams would be able to begin negotiating with and sign their own free agents and draft picks Saturday. The open free agent market would take effect at 2 p.m. Wednesday. The Redskins have been planning to open training camp next Thursday.
But the players have to approve it before the footballs start flying.
"We believe that the agreement that has been negotiated — which is long, complicated and detailed — was negotiated in good faith with the intention of ratifying it," said Jeff Pash, an NFL executive vice president and the league's lead negotiator.
"I cannot imagine that DeMaurice Smith is electing to pay all of those hours for his attorneys to negotiate an agreement that he and his membership then decide not to ratify. So we expect that we will have a ratified agreement and that we will be open with the new league year around the schedule that we have outlined for you. If that does not happen, then obviously we will have to consider what to do next."
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