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NFL and NFLPA execs, attorneys and federal mediator Arthur Boylan were scheduled to meet again this morning at 9:00am ET in Manhattan to try to iron out final details of an umbrella deal that would end the more than four-month-old lockout. But several significant issues remain, including the relatively new demand by players that the league pay them $320M for the non-health care benefits that teams did not have to pay last year under the now-expired CBA. “The clubs complied with the terms of the CBA for the uncapped year,” a league source said. Late NFLPA Exec Dir Gene Upshaw “wanted more money available for salaries in an uncapped year so he took it out of benefits and relieved the clubs of certain benefit obligations they had to pay during capped years. Those were the terms of the agreement in which the uncapped year was designed to [get] both sides to agree on an extension or new CBA before getting to the uncapped year (the negative for the owners was free agency for players but no salary cap). That’s what the NFLPA negotiated for the uncapped year.” The NFLPA did not respond to a request for comment. A source close to the NFLPA denied league sources who contended players’ outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler was pushing the plan. This source said the idea had been on the table for months. A source close to the league responded the issue might have been raised months ago, but it was only after the league thought the core economic issues had been solved late last week did player lawyers suddenly push it. The sides also have to find a way to unwind the antitrust lawsuit filed by 10 players against the league, resolve a league demand that worker compensation claims only be filed in the home state of a player’s team, and resolve remaining legal cases between the parties (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).
GLOBAL SOLUTION: ESPN's Adam Schefter cited sources as saying that the two sides are "amenable to rolling the remaining issues that are most problematic -- the settlement of the Brady v. NFL antitrust lawsuit and the television 'lockout insurance' damages case -- into a global settlement." Such a settlement "would mean that those two cases, along with the retired players' lawsuit and all other legal issues, would be dropped if the players ratify" a new CBA, "which is expected to cover the next 10 seasons." It "would be the quickest way to get the lockout lifted," and if the remaining legal issues "are not rolled into a global settlement, it would be a very bad sign, potentially even stopping progress." Meanwhile, a source said that the NFL and the NFLPA have "agreed to increase benefits for retired players by nearly $1 billion over the life of the agreement." The source added that the agreement "includes creating a 'legacy fund' that will increase by $620 million over the 10-year span." But if retired players "reject the new provisions, it has the potential to scuttle the current agreement" (ESPN.com, 7/18). USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell notes the group of NFL retirees with a "pending lawsuit against the league will be back in the room today" for the settlement talks. Attorney Michael Hausfeld, who is representing the class of retirees, said that he was "hopeful the invitation to today's meeting with league and player attorneys is a sign that retired players' interests will be significantly addressed in a new labor deal" (USA TODAY, 7/19).
LET'S MAKE A DEAL: YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole cited sources as saying that the agents for Brady v. NFL plaintiffs WR Vincent Jackson and G Logan Mankins "have requested that their players either become unrestricted free agents when the lockout is over or that they receive $10 million each as part of the settlement." Colts QB Peyton Manning and Saints QB Drew Brees also "could push for compensation," but a source said that "each is far less likely to create problems." Jackson, Mankins and Manning were "designated 'franchise' players in February, and Brees could be hit with the tag after this season." An NFL source said that none of the other six plaintiffs "are in the same position to demand drastic compensation for damages" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/18). ESPN's Adam Schefter reports this is a situation "where they’re going back and forth,” and NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith “began reaching out to the plaintiffs in this case over the weekend." However a source said that it is "hard to imagine a player like Vincent Jackson holding up the 1,900 other players, the 32 teams around the league and millions of fans from having football.” ESPN's Sal Paolantonio reports over the last 48 hours, there are "side deals taking place to make sure that these plaintiffs are happy so that they can sign off on the case” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 7/19).
ENOUGH TO HOLD UP SETTLEMENT? Sources close to the league are blaming Kessler and agent Tom Condon, who reps Manning and Brees for the impasse. A source said, "Condon through Kessler does not want the franchise tag applied to his clients Manning and Brees and may hold up the settlement if it is. Manning and Brees should come out now and support a new CBA if they want to get this done.” Kessler, who is in the meetings now, could not be reached for comment, and declined all comment this morning about the talks as he walked into them. Condon did not immediately respond for comment. There is precedent for individual plaintiffs receiving special consideration as a part of a settlement. In the Reggie White settlement of '93, which led to the now expired CBA, the plaintiffs were exempt from the franchise tag (Kaplan). Sources said that the "limit of franchise tags on the plaintiffs in the Brady antitrust lawsuit could be the anchor to a settlement in that case" (ESPN.com, 7/19).
OTHER OBSTACLES STILL PREVELANT: YAHOO SPORTS' Michael Silver cites sources as saying that there are "seven potential pitfalls that must be overcome" including lost benefits, lockout insurance damages, judicial oversight, workers' compensation, right of first refusal rules, settling Brady v. NFL and union recertification. Silver: "Anyone operating under the assumption that this is a done deal should be flagged for premature celebration" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/19). Meanwhile, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports the NFLPA Exec Committee “will sit here waiting" for the new CBA draft “that has been hammered out among the lawyers." Mortensen: "That’s a document they want to review and then discuss and even debate. ... I’m told that there’s some members of that Executive Committee who have some real questions about it. I’m not calling them dissenters, but they’re going to challenge some of these” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 7/19). CSNBayArea.com's Ray Ratto said, "They’re too close to ruin this, unless for some reason this goes to the owners meeting on Thursday and there are enough owners who want to throw in revenue-sharing as an amendment to all of it. In which case it could all blow up” ("Jim Rome Is Burning," ESPN, 7/18).
GOLD RUSH: In L.A., Sam Farmer notes owners "have promised all along that they know how to grow the revenue pie and intend to do so under a new agreement." Farmer: "One of the most obvious ways to do that is by moving a franchise that is struggling financially into the nation's second-largest market, providing L.A. has the right stadium deal in place. As soon as the labor fight is history, the NFL can turn its attention back to L.A. and help work out a deal." Even if players "no longer provide owners with credits against the salary cap for investing in new stadiums, an exception could be made for potential California stadium projects in L.A., the Bay Area and San Diego" (L.A. TIMES, 7/19).
The NFL yesterday sent a memo to all teams "in anticipation of a new deal ... informing them that the rules of the new CBA will be explained in a seminar that will start 90 minutes after it is ratified," according to a source cited by Greg Bedard of the BOSTON GLOBE. The owners' meetings, which begins Thursday in Atlanta and "will include up to four members of a team's personnel staff, will conclude Friday" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/19). In N.Y., Judy Battista reports it is "unclear when players would be allowed to begin reporting to teams, but teams would most likely have a few days to study the new rules" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/19). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio cited a source as saying that the Packers are "telling players that the doors will open on Friday, and that the team wants the players in town in order to get started on preparations for training camp and the preseason" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 7/18). Panthers TE Jeremy Shockey told blog Busted Coverage that he has been "told to report to a minicamp this weekend." Shockey: "The deal will be done Thursday, and we're being told to report to Charlotte for a three-day camp the 22nd through 25th" (N.Y. POST, 7/19).
MAKING A SCHEDULE: In DC, Mark Maske reports if a new CBA is approved, free agency "likely would begin next week." Hundreds of players "are eligible for free agency," and there are "tentative plans for teams to be given a three-day window to try to re-sign their own free agents before those players would be eligible to sign with other clubs." It is "not clear if the opening of training camps would be pushed back." The Rams and Bears are scheduled to play in the Aug. 7 Pro Football HOF Game and are "scheduled to be at their training camps this weekend" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/19). Chicago Tribune reporter Brad Biggs noted free agency typically starts "at 12:01 east coast time, the middle of the night." Biggs: "Why not start free agency at, I don’t know, noon one day? ... You’d have NFL Network doing their thing, you’d have ESPN, just have these live shows and agents going bonkers, deals getting reported. That would make sense to me” (“Chicago Tribune Live,” Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 7/18).
RUSHING TO GET ON THE FIELD: In Chicago, David Haugh writes, "I don't know anybody in Chicago who, a year from now, will remember what happened in the first weekend of August 2011 in Canton, Ohio. Unless something bad happens to a Bears player in a game that should be cancelled immediately." The "only people who possibly could get valuable experience out of this game would be the trainers." Haugh: "Call it off now, Commissioner Goodell. ... The reward of preserving a full NFL exhibition schedule to make a nationally televised, business-as-usual PR statement on NBC isn't worth the risk of injury for players who need every possible practice to get back into football shape" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 7/19).
REFS READY FOR KICKOFF: FOXSPORTS.com's Mike Pereira reports the 121 NFL officials are "prepared and ready to go." The officials Sunday "completed a three-day clinic in Dallas, where -- among other things -- they were weighed, had their body fat and waist circumference measured and their body mass calculated." The officials "have been assigned training camps to attend and have gotten their preseason game assignments" (FOXSPORTS.com, 7/19).
The NBPA is "planning a series of player sessions in as many as six cities over 'the next month or so' as a way to help with their planning during the lockout and update players on the state of negotiations with the NBA," according to sources cited by Sam Amick of SI.com. Unless things "unexpectedly change, there won't be much to report" on the labor negotiations at the sessions. While mid-level staffers from both sides met Friday to "finalize the numbers related to basketball-related income for the 2010-11 season, but no negotiating sessions involving" NBA Commissioner David Stern or NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter have been scheduled. Sources said that the BRI numbers "were not finalized Friday and more similar sessions are forthcoming to that end, but the union is focused on fortifying from within rather than [exchanging] proposals with the owners." Amick reported Hunter and "other staff members" will be a part of the player sessions, which will be a "discussion on lockout life and how best to handle it, with topics ranging [from] players' health insurance to the overseas option that continues to evolve." Meanwhile, players are "exploring exhibition games as a way to make lockout money." A game this weekend in the Philippines "will include a star-studded group" headed by Lakers G Kobe Bryant and Hornets G Chris Paul (SI.com, 7/18). Lakers G and NBPA President Derek Fisher's manager, Jamie Wior, yesterday confirmed that Fisher "plans to play in a pair of exhibition games in the Philippines." A source said that Fisher will join Bryant, Paul, Thunder F Kevin Durant and Bulls G Derrick Rose, among others, in "representing the MVP Sports Foundation." The team is "expected to play in a pair of exhibition games July 23 and 24 against the Philippine Basketball Assn.'s All-Star team and the Smart Gilas national team at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City" (LATIMES.com, 7/18).
Howard (r) says he is considering playing
overseas if NBA lockout continues
OBSTACLES TO GOING ABROAD: In West Palm Beach, Ethan Skolnick noted several agents who "represent starter-level -- but not star -- NBA players" raised the issue that most foreign teams are "unlikely to give escape clauses to their players, allowing them to return in the event that a lockout ends." The "most important games in Europe, as in the United States, tend to be after New Year's." Skolnick: "It doesn't make much sense for a team to go to all the trouble of signing an American player -- someone likely to emerge as a key component on a roster -- only to need to replace that player just when the games start to matter" (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 7/18). In Dallas, Kevin Sherrington writes under the header, "World Of Shock Awaits Deron Williams, NBA Stars Overseas" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 7/19).
MONTHLY INSURANCE: DRAFTEXPRESS.com President Jonathon Givony on Twitter reported that the NBPA's "goal is to find an insurance policy that European teams can pay on month to month basis, rather than upfront for the entire year" (TWITTER.com, 7/18). YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Freeman wrote the plan "seems smart, especially because many players who go overseas will want to return to the NBA if and when" a new CBA is reached. Freeman: "Players will want flexibility with any foreign employer, and these plans provide it. The NBPA's involvement in these plans also speaks to its belief that players spending some time in Europe is a good thing for their cause" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/18).