by Randy Williams
LOS ANGELES, July 25 (Xinhua) -- National Football League (NFL) owners and players on Monday agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement ending the 136-day old lockout, the longest labor stoppage in league history.
The league's old labor deal expired in March, and the owners locked out the players, the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith led the respective parties in hammering out a new 10-year deal which doesn't include an opt-out clause.
"This is a long time coming, and football's back," Goodell said, "And that's the great news for everybody."
"We didn't get everything that either side wanted ... but we did arrive at a deal that we think is fair and balanced," Smith said.
As a result of a majority vote by the players to accept the deal on Monday, all rookies (drafted and undrafted) could begin signing contracts on Tuesday, trades could begin and free agents could also begin negotiating new deals.
The basic framework of the deal was worked out over a week ago. The owners ratified a 10-year agreement last Thursday by a vote of 31-0 (the Oakland Raiders abstained), but the players balked at approving immediately, taking the weekend to examine various points they felt had been added by the league at the last minute like a supplemental revenue-sharing plan for clubs.
The deal included how the more than nine billion dollars in annual league revenues will be divided (about 53 percent to owners and 47 percent to players over the next decade; the old CBA resulted in nearly a 50-50 split); a per-club cap of about 120 million for salary and bonuses in 2011, similar range for 2012 and 2013, plus about 22 million for benefits; a salary system to rein in spending on new players and unrestricted free agency for most players after four seasons. Starting in 2012, players will receive 55 percent of national media revenue, 45 percent of NFL Ventures revenue, and 40 percent of local club revenue.
An important deal point regarding the implementation of an entry level compensation system includes: all drafted players sign four-year contracts while undrafted free agents sign three-year contracts. There will be in place a maximum total compensation per draft class; strong anti-holdout rules and limited contract terms with teams having the option to extend the contract of a first-round draftee for a fifth year, based on agreed-upon tender amounts. There has also been the creation of a new fund to redistribute, beginning in 2012, savings from the new rookie pay system to current and retired player benefits and a veteran player performance pool.
Another leading issue was player health and safety. Changes to promote that include: reducing the off-season program by five weeks; limiting on-field practice time and contact; limiting full-contact practices in the preseason and regular season; increasing number of days off for players; providing an opportunity for current players to remain in the player medical plan for life and an enhanced injury protection benefit of up to one million dollars of a player's salary for the contract year after his injury and up to 500,000 in the second year after his injury.
Additionally, 50 million per year will be in a joint fund for medical research, healthcare programs, and NFL Charities, including NFLPA-related charities. Retired players will also see benefits from this deal. Over the next 10 years there will be additional funding for retiree benefits of between 900 million and one billion U.S. dollars. The largest single amount, 620 million, will be used for a new "Legacy Fund," which will be devoted to increasing pensions for pre-1993 retirees. Other improvements will be made to post-career medical options, the disability plan, the 88 Plan, career transition and degree completion programs, and the Player Care Plan.
Schedule-wise there will be no change to the 16-game regular-season/4-game preseason format until at least 2013; any subsequent increase in the number of regular-season games must be made by agreement with the NFL Players Association.
While training camps can be opened and players can begin reporting to those training camps 15 days before their first preseason games, a true CBA can't be agreed upon until the NFLPA re-establishes itself as a union.
The NFLPA recertification process is expected to begin Tuesday; afterward, issues such as pension benefits, drug testing and the player discipline process can be finalized.