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Deal almost done

NFL lockout all but over; weekend work in store

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / July 16, 2011

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The National Football League is nearly back in business.

After two days of furious negotiations in New York, NFL owners and players went from stalemate to the brink of a new labor deal that will bring peace for at least the next seven years, sources on both sides said last night.

One source said terms of the settlement were 90 percent complete, with the only real obstacle being the settlement of the pending litigation - including Brady v. NFL and the television rights case.

The lawyers will talk over the weekend, and, barring any unforeseen obstacle, an agreement on the terms of settlement will be announced Monday or Tuesday, when the sides are scheduled to meet in the Minnesota office of Judge Arthur Boylan.

“The discussions this week have been constructive and progress has been made on a wide range of issues,’’ the NFL and NFLPA said in a joint statement.

Privately, league sources said virtually nothing could derail the deal at this point.

So after 125 days of the lockout, the light is blasting out the other end of the tunnel.

The Patriots’ Robert Kraft, a central figure in the talks, and his fellow owners are expected to vote on the collective bargaining agreement Thursday at a league meeting in Atlanta. The league needs 24 of the 32 votes to approve the CBA.

The NFLPA will need to reform as a union, and then the players will need to approve the deal.

It is not known when the league year or training camps will start. The Patriots had been scheduled to start training camp July 28.

The complete details of what the NFL landscape will look like won’t be known until the CBA is made public, but here are some key points:

■The players will receive between 47 and 48 percent of the league’s current $9.3 billion revenue;

■The new rookie wage scale will include four-year contracts for first-round picks, with a team option for the fifth year that would pay top-10 picks the average salary of the top 10 players at their position, like the traditional transition tag. The option for picks 11-32 would pay the average of the third to 25th players at their position;

■Teams will have a three-day window to sign undrafted free agents, along with their own unrestricted free agents. Owners gave up on their dream scenario of having the right of first refusal on up to three of their own free agents. It would be hard to imagine many unrestricted free agents, such as Patriots left tackle Matt Light, re-signing before testing the market;

■The salary cap will be $120 million, with an additional $21 million paid to player benefit programs. The owners agreed to increase the minimum cash payroll of 89 percent of the cap, ESPN.com reported;

■Rosters are likely to be expanded for training camp from the current 80-man limit. It is possible the regular-season 53-man rosters will also be expanded.

As of Wednesday night, a deal was definitely in question. But things changed Thursday.

Sports Illustrated reported NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith revealed to owners that the NFLPA had secretly purchased lockout insurance that would pay each NFL player $200,000 if games were missed. The report characterized this as a game-changer.

An NFL source said the insurance did not change anything for the owners. What changed for them and the path of negotiations was Smith.

“De really stepped up on Thursday,’’ the NFL source said. “When he decided he wanted a deal, that is when things changed.’’

Smith also earned more respect for the way he marginalized NFLPA lead counsel Jeffrey Kessler, who has long been a thorn in the side of owners, during the negotiation process.

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

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