NFL players say they're not tied to deal deadline
WASHINGTON (AP) — NFL Players Association president Kevin Mawae says his group is "not tied" to a Thursday deadline for getting a deal done to end the league's lockout.
Speaking outside NFLPA headquarters, Mawae says Wednesday: "We want to go back to work, but we will not agree to a deal unless it's the best deal for the players."
The NFLPA's executive committee and representatives of all 32 teams are meeting in Washington, prepared to review and vote on a full agreement — if they receive it later Wednesday. Members of the league's labor committee are supposed to meet in Atlanta on Wednesday, so they could decide whether to recommend a finalized proposal to all club owners as soon as the documents are completed.
The owners then would vote Thursday; at least 24 would need to OK the deal.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
An end to the NFL lockout appears close, with both sides preparing to vote on a proposed deal once it is finalized.
When that might be remained uncertain as players gathered in Washington and league executives and owners headed for Atlanta.
The NFL Players Association's executive committee reviewed only portions of a potential new collective bargaining agreement Tuesday, with not enough information to warrant a vote Tuesday, two people familiar with the league's labor negotiations told The Associated Press.
A full agreement in principle wasn't completed Tuesday night, as some had hoped it would be, and another person familiar with the talks said there was no guarantee a full document would be finished Wednesday, either.
Still, player representatives from each of the 32 teams were scheduled to be at NFLPA headquarters Wednesday, and could vote on a new contract once it is ready.
The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the process is supposed to remain confidential.
Members of the league's labor committee planned to meet in Atlanta on Wednesday, and also were in position to recommend a finalized proposal to the club owners as soon as the documents are completed. The owners would vote Thursday, then team officials would be schooled in the guidelines of the CBA and how to apply them. Clubs were told topics would include the 2011 NFL calendar, rookie salary system and guidelines for player transactions.
While lawyers from both sides worked Tuesday on contract language in New York with court-appointed mediator Judge Arthur Boylan for the second consecutive day, the NFLPA's leadership met for about nine hours at the group's headquarters in Washington.
"Every day the last two years has been a long day," NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith said as he left, knowing each side faced another lengthy day of meetings on Wednesday.
If the four-month lockout — the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987 — is going to end this week, in time to keep the preseason completely intact, the owners and players almost certainly must ratify a new deal in the next two days. The St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears, who open the preseason on Aug. 7 in the Hall of Fame game, are supposed to open their training camps this weekend.
The start of Chicago's training camp will be delayed even if a new agreement is in place this week, because the team needs extra time to prepare, two people familiar with the situation told the AP on condition of anonymity.
One of the people who spoke to the AP said lawyers for owners and players planned to continue discussions Wednesday via telephone, instead of the in-person talks that produced so much progress last week.
There still were unresolved issues Tuesday, including what it would take to get the 10 plaintiffs — including quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson and Patriots guard Logan Mankins — to sign off on a settlement to their antitrust lawsuit against the NFL that is pending in federal court in Minnesota.
Late Tuesday, Jackson tweeted: "I have made no demands, I wanna play ball like the rest of my peers!"
Another pending dispute has been the TV networks case, in which players accused owners of setting up $4 billion in "lockout insurance."
After joining the talks in New York for about seven hours, Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller thought an agreement would be reached this week. He also said retired players won't stand in the way.
After leaving negotiations, Eller headed to a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
"They want to get these games going, and they want to have a season. That's their focus," Eller said. "Our issues are very, very critical — very important — but they don't really have much to do with whether the game goes on or not."
He said "there's still a lot more to be done" when it comes to benefits for former players, but that could be resolved after the main issues are settled.
A proposal under consideration would set up nearly $1 billion over the next 10 years in additional benefits for retired players. That would include $620 million in pension increases, long-term care insurance and disability programs.
Retired players complained to the court in Minnesota recently that they had been excluded from negotiations, making Eller's presence Tuesday significant.
"We weren't happy, and we hope it doesn't go back to that. We hope we stay active in the talks and we hope we continue to have meaningful talks. This clearly lets us know there's more work to be done," Eller said. "It's certainly something we want to keep going and continue the dialogue, continue to work until we have some kind of a solution."
Lawyers for the NFL and the players suing the league submitted a joint filing to the court Tuesday, asking for an extra week to file written arguments "to allow them to focus on the continuing mediation." The request, which was granted in the afternoon, noted that "the parties have also been meeting regularly since April 11, 2011, in an effort to resolve their disputes."
The country's most popular professional sports league has been in limbo since the old collective bargaining agreement expired March 11. The lockout began hours later.
The lockout has resulted in pay cuts for non-playing employees around the league, and economic hardship for cities, like Cortland, N.Y., that hosted training camps in the past but won't this year. On Tuesday, the lower-level UFL — which had been hoping to start its season in the void created by a lack of NFL preseason games — announced it is delaying its season start to mid-September, a blow for a league that has lost $100 million in only two years.
The NFL's regular-season opener is scheduled for Sept. 8, when the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers are to host the New Orleans Saints.
AP Sports Writers Rachel Cohen in New York, Dave Campbell in Minneapolis, and Andrew Seligman in Chicago contributed to this report.
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