- Associated Press - Saturday, July 30, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) - It’s on to the next step for the NFL and its players, who are getting closer to a full-fledged collective bargaining agreement.

“The NFL and NFLPA staffs have been working for the past few days on the final details of the new CBA,” league spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Saturday.

A person familiar with the negotiations confirmed to the AP that the NFL Players Association already re-established itself as a union. The person spoke 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, player conduct policy and disability and pension programs.

For the lockout to remain lifted and the season to proceed, those issues must be resolved and a full CBA completed by Thursday, a deadline both sides are confident will be met.

In March, when federally mediated talks in Washington between owners and players broke down and the old CBA expired, the NFLPA said it was dissolving itself as a union and instead becoming a trade association. That move allowed the players to sue the league under antitrust law, and 10 did, including Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. That case was settled as part of the deal the sides have agreed to.

But by decertifying, the NFLPA gave up its right to bargain on behalf of all players under labor law. That’s why the union needed to form again in order to complete a CBA.

Once the CBA is fully squared away, veteran free agents who have signed new contracts in the past few days 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.

In addition to the Bills, at least the following teams had voted in favor of re-certification as of Saturday: Patriots, Chiefs, Broncos, Bengals, Cowboys, Jaguars, Browns, Saints, Steelers, 49ers, Falcons, Giants, Titans, Buccaneers, Bears, Cardinals, Dolphins, Rams and Redskins.

Giants player rep Kareem McKenzie said of his team’s unanimous vote: “The guys really wanted to go ahead. Once they had an idea of what the deal encompassed and all we gained, the guys really wanted to get back to work.”

Said Broncos safety Brian Dawkins, a member of the NFLPA’s executive committee: “It was an easy sell.”

While noting that the final CBA is not yet done, Dawkins was confident the final issues will be settled.

“De and those guys will continue to hash those things out,” he said, referring to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. “We have nothing but 100 percent trust in De. He knows what we want. He knows what, obviously, we need.”

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AP Sports Writers John Wawrow, Tom Canavan and Teresa M. Walker, and AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed to this report.

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