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July 25, 2011 8:19 PM

Game On: NFL, Player Reps Sign Deal to End Lockout

Posted by Tom Huddleston Jr.

"Football is back."

So said National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell after the NFL and player representatives reached an agreement on a framework for a collective bargaining agreement that ends a nearly five-month-long labor lockout, according to ESPN.

Goodell's emphatic announcment came after executive board members of the decertified NFL Players Association and player representatives from all 32 teams unanimously approved a detailed ten-year labor and revenue-sharing pact Monday. By a 31-to-0 vote (the Oakland Raiders having abstained), the league's 32 owners had approved what was essentially the same pact on Thursday.

As The Am Law Daily reported Friday, players' representatives initially met the owners' vote with skepticism due to concerns that management had attempted to slip controversial measures into the deal unilaterally. A flurry of meetings over the weekend apparently resolved those concerns. 

As we have previously reported, Proskauer Rose labor and management relations partner L. Robert Batterman and Covington & Burling litigation partner Gregg Levy are representing owners and NFL management. The players union, headed by former Patton Boggs and Latham & Watkins partner DeMaurice Smith, is being advised by its longtime outside counsel, Dewey & LeBoeuf global litigation chair Jeffrey Kessler and Weil, Gotshal & Manges litigation cochair James Quinn.

According to Levy, what went on between the owners' vote on Thursday evening and the players' vote on Monday wasn't so much persuading people to change their positions as giving a broader group a chance to familiarize themselves with the negotiated terms.

While the executive committee representing players was knowledgeable about the deal contained at the time the owners voted, he says, most of the rank and file were not familiar with the agreement's details.

Levy adds that no one directly involved in the talks should have been suprised about what the owners voted on because everything contained in the 200-page, single-spaced document was the product of intensive negotiations over a period of weeks, if not months.

A player-side source close to the talks says that the initial outcry from players was prompted by the fact that a handful of major issues remained unresolved at the time of the owners' vote. Hashing those issues out over the weekend involved final negotiations that pulled in representatives of management and players, lawyers on both sides, and Goodell.

Among the last major sticking points, according to the player-side source: injury-protection insurance coverage, worker's compensation benefits, and the 2011 free-agency calendar. Negotiations continued until early Monday morning, with both sides poring over any possible ambiguities or necessary clarifications until everyone was satisfied, this source adds. 

The agreement reached does not include an opt-out clause, which means the sides will not be able to scrap the deal to renegotiate midway through and risk another lockout within the next decade. Other notable features of the agreement include a $120 million salary cap for each team, higher minimum salaries, and a new wage scale for rookies that is aimed at cutting down on top draft picks getting huge contracts.

With the lockout over, players are to begin reporting to training camp throughout the week, where they will vote on whether or not to recertify the NFLPA as a union. Once that has happened, the NFLPA and the owners will have to finalize the actual collective bargaining agreement by August 4. The CBA will fold in issues that were not a part of the labor agreement approved Monday such as disability benefits, the league's disciplinary process, and the substance-abuse policy.

ESPN speculated that lawyers working on the two sides of the lockout have earned hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees in total during the process. A management-side source called that figure wildly overstated and said the final figure would more likely be in "the millions."

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