Continued from page 1

“It’s been long and at times has been very, very difficult,” said Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers. “We’re confident that the players and the teams have arrived at a good place. We think we have a fair, balanced agreement.”

But George Wilson, the player representative for the Buffalo Bills, called the owners’ vote and subsequent news conference “an attempt to break the spirits of our men and to fracture the solidarity that we’ve exemplified thus far.”

He said the deal approved by the owners included provisions the players haven’t even seen, which is why no vote was taken during a conference call Thursday night.

“Ultimately, the guys felt like this thing is being force-fed to us, that it’s being shoved down our throats,” Wilson told The Associated Press. “And the way everything transpired this evening, in a sense, was trying to add more pressure to the situation and force us to accept this deal without really being able to see all the details of what they voted on.”

Clearly, the basic outline of the proposed agreement _ much of which was agreed upon a week ago _ can still produce a deal acceptable to both owners and players. Maybe, given all the enmity displayed during the four-month work stoppage, it was farfetched to think everything would go smoothly at the end.

“I don’t think this deal is blown up,” Wilson said. “We can definitely work through these issues.”

The fans are tired of all the labor talk. They’re just ready for some football.

“Finally,” said Dave Gower of Knoxville, Tenn., who just happened to be staying at the hotel where the owners met. “I don’t understand why it took so long. I hope the players take it and run with it.”

Packers president Mark Murphy said no one was trying to pull a fast one on the players, or pressure them into accepting an owner-friendly framework for divvying up more than $9 billion in annual revenues. He also dismissed the idea of going back to the bargaining table.

“We put our pens down,” Murphy said. “We’ve negotiated. We’ve been negotiating in good faith with the union, we reached agreement on all the key points. They’re voting on the same thing that we ratified.”

Not so, said NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith, who talked with Goodell several times by phone during the day and was informed of the owners’ vote before an official announcement went out. It didn’t take long for Smith to fire off an email to team reps denying it was a done deal.

“Issues that need to be collectively bargained remain open; other issues, such as workers’ compensation, economic issues and end of deal terms, remain unresolved. There is no agreement between the NFL and the players at this time,” Smith wrote.

Unhappy with the old collective bargaining agreement, owners exercised an opt-out clause three years ago, setting the stage for this labor dispute. The new deal does not contain an opt-out clause.

If players approve the agreement, team facilities would open Saturday, and the new league year would begin Wednesday, with full free agency and the opening of training camps.

“I can’t say we got everything we wanted to get in the deal. I’m sure (players) would say the same thing,” New York Giants owner John Mara said. “The best thing about it is our fans don’t have to hear about labor-management relations for another 10 years.”

Story Continues →