- Associated Press - Saturday, July 30, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) - A person familiar with the negotiations tells The Associated Press the NFL Players Association has returned to being a union and is negotiating the last terms of a new collective bargaining agreement.

The person spoke to the AP on Saturday on condition of anonymity because no announcement had been made by the NFLPA.

Re-establishing the union was a key step needed to finish a CBA after the main parts of the deal to end the NFL’s 4 1/2-month lockout were agreed to by owners on July 21 and by players on Monday. Only a union can negotiate items such as drug testing and disability and pension programs.

Those issues must be resolved and a full CBA completed by Thursday, a deadline both sides are confident will be met.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

NFL players are on board to recertify the union, meaning talks can reopen with the league to complete the labor agreement, a person familiar with the number of votes cast told The Associated Press on Saturday.

The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the union has not made an announcement. The person added talks with the NFL could restart even though players from all NFL teams have not had a chance to vote yet. The union, however, had enough votes to recertify as of Saturday morning.

Players from at least 11 teams have already voted overwhelmingly in favor of recertification the past few days as they reported for training camp.

Reconstituting the union was a condition to concluding the collective bargaining agreement that was reached last week. The union would be required to negotiate with the NFL several outstanding items, such as drug testing, player discipline, disability and pension programs.

The pact requires those issues be resolved and a full CBA done by Aug. 4, a deadline both sides are confident will be reached.

“Everybody signed the ballot in favor of recertification,” Buffalo Bills safety and player representative George Wilson said in announcing his team’s vote Saturday. Wilson said the union hopes to have all team votes in by the end of the day and have the union recertified before the weekend ends.

Though the lockout has been lifted and teams have been in the process of opening camps and signing both rookies and veteran free agents, the labor deal is still not completed.

Once completed, veteran free agents who have signed new contracts starting Friday night will be allowed to practice with their teams. Those players are currently allowed to attend team meetings, work out individually and watch _ but not participate _ in practice.

“It’s frustrating,” Buffalo Bills receiver/quarterback Brad Smith said after watching the team’s first walk-through of training camp in suburban Rochester on Saturday. “It’s good. I can sit here and watch the guys go through the plays and learn the system. It hurts a little bit. But it’s a positive opportunity.”

The former New York Jets multipurpose offensive star signed a four-year contract with the Bills on Friday, a day after agreeing to the deal.

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