Players not ready to vote

Talks are expected through weekend

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / July 23, 2011

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National Football League owners passed a resolution Thursday to end the lockout, but the sport continued to be in a state of suspended animation yesterday.

However, sources with the owners and players said they are optimistic the NFL will be back in business within a week, hopefully much sooner.

Executives with the NFL Players Association spent yesterday going over the full proposal owners approved by a 31-0 vote (the Oakland Raiders abstained).

“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.

Despite a report saying players would not meet until Monday, the NFLPA will work through the weekend with the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell to finish the deal.

“I think we may get together and discuss the deal sometime over the weekend,’’ said Washington Redskins player representative Vonnie Holliday. “My guys have a lot of questions and so I’m hoping that sometime during the weekend we are going to get together and go through [the deal] because I don’t know what was added as of right now. I would hope we’re going to get together sometime soon so we can discuss this deal and know more about what would change, if anything was changed.’’

Patriots player representatives Tom Brady and Matt Light were not available for comment.

With every day that passes without an agreement, time will continue to be a pressure point.

The NFL canceled the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame exhibition game on Thursday, 18 days before it was to be played. (Considering the lockout, it seemed unfair to give the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears an extra week of practice over other teams.)

Monday would mark 17 days before the first full slate of exhibition games are to be played on Aug. 11, when the Patriots are scheduled to host the Jacksonville Jaguars. Those games could be pushed back, possibly up to four days.

But the bottom line is both sides will lose a combined $200 million for each canceled week of exhibition games.

The NFL was set to lift the lockout and open its doors today under the timeline it released after passing the resolution. But that will not happen.

“We’ve always been advised that if the facility is open and the lockout is lifted, that we should show up and go to work,’’ Holliday said. “And I was told [yesterday] that is still the case.

“I had an opportunity to talk to Bruce Allen, our general manager, and his stance was that the facility would not be open until the reps agree on the deal. It was his understanding that everybody around the league had the same protocol.’’

An NFL source confirmed that is the league’s stance. Until the NFLPA board - which includes executive director DeMaurice Smith, the executive committee, and the 32 team player reps - approves the deal, the league will continue with the lockout.

The NFL does not want to get into a situation where it has to reinstitute the lockout if the players fail to follow through on reconstituting as a union. The NFL wants the players in a union so the league can be protected against antitrust laws.

How did it get to this point after it looked like both sides would vote on the resolution Thursday?

Holliday said the players were not under the impression that an agreement was at hand Wednesday after they broke their meeting.

“We felt like we had the meat and potatoes of the deal in place and ready to go,’’ Holliday said. “And we were kind of caught off guard [with the owners’ vote] because there were some issues outstanding with the owners, some things we needed cleared up that we still were negotiating and bargaining for, and that’s how we left it.

“So going back to our players, we were like, ‘OK guys, in about seven to 10 days, we’ll be back in camp and we’ll have football.’ Well, that didn’t happen. We turned on the television and Roger was saying that they have ratified a deal. And we were caught off guard by that.’’

It’s almost hard to fathom the players were unaware since everyone knew the owners were meeting in Atlanta Thursday with the full intention of voting on the agreement.

Goodell said after the vote that Smith knew what was happening.

“I just spoke to DeMaurice probably 20 minutes ago,’’ Goodell said. “He’s going to go take care of his business.’’

Holliday insisted the vote came as a surprise to the NFLPA board members.

“We knew they were meeting and they had a timeline out there,’’ he said. “But at the same time, we did not know, if the deal was not agreed upon on both sides, that they would be then voting to ratify a deal that we had not seen in its entirety. We didn’t know that part.’’

It appears that either Smith let the owners unknowingly go ahead with a vote that the players would not reciprocate, or Goodell went ahead with the vote even though he knew the players would not be voting. Neither has commented since the players failed to hold a vote.

Holliday said that the delay right now has to do with the process of the reconstitution of the union, and some points that need to be collectively bargained, such as drug testing and discipline.

“They have imposed that we have three days to become a union and a deal won’t get done until we’re a union, and once we do agree that we go back to the old 2006 CBA until the other deal is completely done - so it’s all a problem,’’ Holliday said. “I don’t think that’s how we want to get back. We were more anticipating getting to camp with an understanding, something in writing, saying that we have agreed on this and that once we get to camp and the guys get an opportunity to hear the deal, hear the pros and cons of becoming a union again, that we would have an opportunity to vote on that.’’

Holliday fully expects that to happen, but a solid plan agreed upon by both sides needs to be in place first. In the meantime, the sport stays in limbo and fans remain frustrated.

“I know they want football and they feel like it’s millionaires vs. billionaires bickering over money, and that’s not it. That’s not just it.

“I would encourage the fans just to believe in the players and our leadership, that we are working towards getting a right deal done that protects our players - past, present, and future - and the game of football. We are very, very close. Our intent and our plan is not to miss any more games. We hope that we can just reconcile here as soon as possible and get back to playing ball because we need it as much as they do, and as much as the owners do, probably more.’’

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard.

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