NFL preseason, when it begins, could look ragged

July 23, 2011 - 11:13 AM
NFL Labor Football

Jon Elway, executive vice president of football operations for the Denver Broncos, arrives for a meeting Friday, July 22, 2011, in Atlanta. NFL general managers and other team executives are meeting to discuss specifics of the labor agreement approved by owners and make plans for the season while awaiting the players' vote on the deal. (AP Photo/John Amis)

NEW YORK (AP) — While lawyers for NFL players and owners spend the weekend trying to put the lockout to rest, many fans are wondering when pro football will return.

And when it does, just how ragged will the preseason look?

Exhibition games rarely feature star players for more than cameo appearances. Now, with no offseason training at team facilities, no minicamps and perhaps delayed camp openings, the big names could be on the bench until ... September.

There's also enhanced concern about injuries. Few players are likely to be close to football shape when they report — whenever that is.

The players have yet to schedule a vote on an owner-approved proposal that would put the league back in business.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sorry, football fans.

The NFL is stuck in a holding pattern, with work still to be done to end the lockout. Heck, the players haven't even scheduled a vote.

People from both sides of the labor dispute planned to talk through the weekend — although not face-to-face — to try to resolve the differences preventing players from accepting the owner-approved proposal that would put the league back in business.

After the NFL Players Association decided not to vote Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, it's possible it won't make any decision until next week. It all comes down to how long it takes to resolve the remaining issues.

As it is, clubs won't open their facilities to players Saturday, when owners wanted to unlock the gates.

"Now it's just waiting," Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said at an Atlanta hotel where team executives were briefed Friday on new rules for next season. "Be flexible, and wait and see what happens."

Owners ratified the tentative terms 31-0 — the Oakland Raiders abstained — on Thursday, provided players would give their OK, too, and re-establish their union within a certain timeframe.

But players decided later Thursday not to hold a vote, saying they hadn't had a chance to see a finished product.

By Friday, it was in hand.

"Player leadership is discussing the most recent written proposal with the NFL, which includes a settlement agreement, deal terms and the right process for addressing recertification," NFLPA president Kevin Mawae said in a statement released by the group. "There will not be any further NFLPA statements today out of respect for the Kraft family while they mourn the loss of Myra Kraft."

Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith attended Friday's funeral in Newton, Mass., for the wife of New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft.

Even when players decide they're OK with a final agreement, their approval process is more complicated than the owners' was. The 32 team reps will have to recommend accepting the settlement. Then the 10 named plaintiffs in the players' lawsuit against the league — including Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees — must officially inform the court of their approval.

Eventually, all 1,900 players would take a majority vote to approve returning the NFLPA to union status. When talks broke down in March, allowing the old collective bargaining agreement 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.

Only after the NFLPA is again a union can it negotiate certain parts of a new CBA. Among those items that are of most concern to players:

—the league's personal conduct policy;

—drug testing;

—benefits, such as pension funds, the disability plan, and the "88 Plan," which provides money for care of former players with dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

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

One item in the document ratified by owners that Smith said caught players by surprise because it hadn't been discussed during negotiations between the league and players: a supplemental revenue-sharing plan for clubs.

Goodell and the owners expressed hope Thursday night that their vote would lead to a speedy resolution to the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987. They called it an equitable deal that improves player safety and allows the sport to prosper even more.

"It is time to get back to football," a weary Goodell said.

Already, one game is sure to be lost: The league called off the Hall of Fame exhibition opener, scheduled for Aug. 7 between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams.

As of Friday evening, the NFL still aimed to start the league year next Wednesday.

But for the time being, the league's labor impasse officially dragged on.

"We were told there's a lockout still in place," Denver Broncos chief of football operations John Elway said after the four-hour session for club executives in Atlanta. "We're still in the same place we were."

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AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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