Weekend progress brings owners, players to brink of deal

WASHINGTON -- The NFL and NFL Players Association are down to the details in finalizing a 10-year labor agreement to end a lockout that has lasted more than four months.

After very productive talks Saturday, sources involved in the negotiations said the NFLPA on Sunday put plans in place for its 13-man executive committee to travel to Washington and meet Monday, with the 32 player representatives on standby for a possible vote Monday as well.

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During Monday's meeting, the executive committee members will look over the potential deal. Assuming the committee recommends approval of the deal, it would be passed on to the player reps for a vote, likely done by conference call. An affirmative vote there would pass the deal to the 10 named plaintiffs in the Brady et al v. National Football League et al case for approval.

Jay Glazer of NFL Network and FoxSports.com reported Monday that the sides had reached agreement in the wee hours and the players' approval was a mere formality

Sources in the negotiations told Glazer that under the new agreement, team facilities will open as early as Tuesday and training camps will begin Thursday for 10 teams, Friday for another 10 and over the weekend for the remaining 12 teams.

Earlier Sunday, Drew Brees sent two emails to his New Orleans Saints teammates. In the first email, obtained by NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora, Brees -- one of the lead plaintiffs in the Brady suit -- said "the deal is almost done," and he expects the NFLPA to approve a deal Monday and hold a press conference to announce it sometime later in the day.

Brees went on to lay out a tentative post-lockout schedule for the Saints, but he later sent a second email -- obtained by ProFootballTalk.com -- in which he provided a new timetable.

"As has been the case with this entire process, it looks like the details and schedule has changed for training camp and free agency," Brees writes. "It now looks like free agency will begin at noon on Tuesday and it will be open free agency. There will be no 3 day grace period for teams to sign their own players. It will be open for anyone to sign anywhere."

"It looks like the NFL is trying to force teams into camp on time," the email continues. "This would move us to a report date of Thursday, July 28. We would have physicals, conditioning, and meetings on this day. The day before would be a travel day and the hotel would be open that night for guys to check in as well as physicals but nothing mandatory until Thursday."

"I will keep you updated with the latest information. Unfortunately, it tends to change very quickly. Just stay prepared for anything."

NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen, associate general counsel Tom DePaso and director of salary cap and agent administration Mark Levin were called in to the trade association's office Sunday morning to help with details and to be ready to review the final document.

According to La Canfora, the NFLPA continued to seek language on Sunday that could result in certain opt-out options deep into the 10-year deal.

On Saturday, the parties used personal phone calls, email communication and conference calls to regain some momentum that was lost Thursday. They continued driving toward a resolution that could save the four full weeks of preseason games, with the Hall of Fame game already canceled. They addressed topics such as workers' compensation, injury protection in contracts, a potential opt-out clause in the deal and, most pointedly, the potential timeline for the recertification of the NFLPA as a union.

In addition, the NFL's labor committee, which has negotiated with the NFLPA's executive committee throughout, held a Saturday afternoon conference call to discuss the remaining issues.

Two votes, neither of which amounted to a deal, already have taken place. On Wednesday, the NFLPA empowered its executive committee, lawyers and executive director, DeMaurice Smith, to work out a deal, so long as certain conditions were met. On Thursday, the NFL passed a comprehensive proposal 31-0, but that rankled scores of players who believed the league had framed it as a deal to put pressure on the other side.

It seems as if cooler heads have prevailed. Smith and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have been in constant contact since the players and owners last met face to face, on July 15 in New York, and spoke just before the owners took that vote Thursday.

And even before talks Saturday, another problem was evaporating.

Earlier in the day, it was learned that the league no longer needed to worry about placating the named plaintiffs in the Brady antitrust lawsuit. Requests for concessions for numerous players -- including but not limited to San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson and New England Patriots guard Logan Mankins -- loomed earlier in the week. But Jackson and Mankins dropped their demands for $10 million to settle the suit against the league, leaving fewer obstacles to a new collective bargaining agreement that would end the lockout, which started March 12.

The form in which post-recertification issues would be attacked was discussed Saturday. From a legal standpoint, topics such as benefits (including drug testing) and player discipline cannot be negotiated until after the NFLPA reforms as a union. The idea, for now, is that the parties will pick up talks on those subjects where they left off in March, when the NFLPA still was a union and negotiations were held at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in Washington.

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Recertification of the union has been a hot topic over the past few days. The players have concerns over how a hastened recertification process would affect their ability to act legally in any future labor disputes, particularly if the league did choose to assert that a future decertification was a "sham," as it did earlier this year.

Eventually, the league's 1,900 players would have to take a majority vote to approve returning the NFLPA to union status. When talks broke down in March, allowing the old CBA to expire, the players dissolved the union, turning the NFLPA into a trade association. That's what allowed the players to sue the owners in federal court under antitrust law.

The major economic framework for a 10-year deal was worked out a week ago. That included how the $9 billion-plus 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 -- and at least that much in 2012 and 2013 -- plus about $22 million in benefits; a salary system to rein in spending on first-round draft picks; and unrestricted free agency for most players after four seasons.

NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora and The Associated Press contributed to this report.