NEW YORK -- The deal isn't done.
But the NFL's players and owners have set in motion an exit strategy from the four-month-old lockout.
The legal teams and staff worked Tuesday night to finalize a draft of a settlement to present to players and owners Wednesday, opening the door for the parties to push the process toward conclusion. First to take the document will be the 13-man NFL Players Association executive committee and the 10-man NFL labor committee. With their recommendations, votes will take place.
The players' side would present the agreement to player reps for all 32 clubs, who would vote on whether to recommend the settlement to the plaintiffs in the Brady et al v. National Football League et al lawsuit. The player reps will meet in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, where a vote is expected to take place. The next step could be the recertification of the union, which requires all 1,900 players to vote, a simple majority to pass, and could be done by e-mail or conference call.
Jackson, Mankins want freedom
The agents for Vincent Jackson and Logan Mankins are demanding that their clients either become unrestricted free agents or receive $10 million as part of a settlement of the Brady v. NFL case, according to a Yahoo! Sports report. **More ...**
The owners would vote at their meeting in Atlanta on Thursday to ratify the agreement. The league has invited four executives per team to the summit, and has a plan to begin a "labor seminar" to apprise all on the new rules starting 90 minutes after ratification. That meeting will happen at another Atlanta hotel, and is expected to carry into Friday. Clubs were told Monday that topics would include the 2011 NFL calendar, the rookie salary system and guidelines for player transactions.
One source said there are still a few issues to work out, and those will likely be handled by the committees controlling the process for the players and owners.
According to a source, the plan now is for some training camps to open a day late, and others to open on time. The Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams, scheduled to open camp at the end of this week and play each other in the Hall of Fame Game on August 7, would be delayed by "a few days," according to the plan.
A few new guests were present at the negotiating table Tuesday, with the retired player group that's part of the consolidated Brady & Eller et al v. National Football League et al case in attendance. Attorney Michael Hausfeld led a group that included former Minnesota Viking Carl Eller and ex-Buffalo Bill Joe DeLamielleure.
"We were left out," Eller told NFL Network on his way in. "But it's good to be back. ... It's our position to be here. That's why we're here."
According to sources, between $900 million and $1 billion in improvements to benefits have been negotiated for retirees. Of that, $620 million is expected to go into the Legacy Fund, which will benefit the pre-1993 retirees. And the players and owners also solved the issue of how to fund that, with the club-to-cap breakdown being approximately 50-50, with teams taking on a bit more financial responsibility.
Presented with those terms, DeLamielleure said, "We've been to this show before. So we'll see."
Eller says he thinks a deal to end the NFL lockout will be reached this week -- and that retired players won't stand in the way of an agreement.
"They want to get these games going, and they want to have a season. That's their focus," Eller said.
Emerging as the primary issue has been the players' pursuit of $320 million in lost benefits that resulted from the 2010 uncapped year rules, sources said. The league's contention is that the players negotiated that money away in the 2006 collective bargaining agreement.
Meanwhile, the other set of plaintiffs in Brady & Eller v. the NFL made some noise of their own Tuesday.
According to a league source, one proposed settlement term has quarterbacks Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints being immune from the franchise tag for the rest of their careers. That would make Manning an unrestricted free agent when the league opens for business, presumably soon.
Also, New England Patriots guard Logan Mankins and San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson have reportedly asked for $10 million or to be set loose as free agents, as terms to agree to a litigation settlement. Yahoo! Sports first reported the demand by both players' respective agents.
Mankins and Jackson are under the franchise tag now, and each fell in the category last year of players who would have been unrestricted free agents in the pre-2010 system, but were restricted under the uncapped year rules.
Both players also had their tenders cut by their teams and held out deep into the season, with Mankins making about $816,000 in 2010 and Jackson bringing home $583,000.
The agent who represents both Manning and Brees told the *Indianapolis Star* on Tuesday that his clients are not seeking special treatment in the new deal.
"Asserting anything else is nonsense,'' Tom Condon said. "Drew and Peyton have been two of the staunchest supporters of the players throughout this process. "What they are doing is endorsing the players' (bargaining position), not pursing anything individually.''
Brees and Jackson took to Twitter on Tuesday, with Brees tweeting: "All media claims about me wanting a personal reward for this deal are false. I hope you all know me better than that," and Jackson tweeting: "Preciate the support guys! Can't believe all u read or see in media. I have made no demands, I wanna play ball like the rest of my peers!"
Members of the NFLPA's executive committee arrived at the trade association's headquarters in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, to work through the latest round of talks, NFL.com's Steve Wyche reported.
The mission is to "push through" to reach a deal now that the finish line is visible, a trade association source told Wyche.
"The grass is cut, but the hay is not in the barn yet. We've got a lot of work to do," NFLPA president Kevin Mawae told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The meeting of the executive committee, which includes Brees, is a precursor to Wednesday's important meeting with representatives from all 32 teams.
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said the players have been working very hard and will continue to do so until a deal is done.
"We've got to trust the process and make sure we get this right," Atallah said.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith spoke to each other on the phone Monday and planned to stay in regular contact.
In addition to the Brady class settlement, the pending TV networks case is also an issue, in which players accused owners of setting up $4 billion in "lockout insurance."
Owners locked out players on March 12, when the old collective bargaining agreement expired, leaving the country's most popular professional sports league in limbo. The sides are trying to forge a settlement in time to keep the preseason completely intact.
The regular-season opener is scheduled for Sept. 8, when the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers are to play host to the New Orleans Saints.
During lengthy negotiations last week, players and owners came up with the framework of a CBA that addresses most of their differences.
Areas they've figured out include:
» How the more than $9 billion in annual league revenues will be divided, with somewhere from 46.5 to 48.5 percent going to players, depending on how much the total take from TV contracts and other sources rises or falls;
» A structure for rookie contracts that will rein in soaring salaries for high first-round draft picks;
» Free agency rules that allow most four-year veterans to negotiate with any team;
» A cap of about $120 million per team for player salaries in 2011, with about another $20 million per team in benefits;
» Each team must spend at least 90 percent of the salary cap in cash each season, a higher figure than in the past.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
NFL.com's Steve Wyche contributed to this report.