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NFL stays on track for new CBA

A vote by players could come today

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / July 20, 2011

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After some contentious hours yesterday, a new collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association remains on track and the hope is it will be put to a vote by the players today.

Although the NFLPA executive committee ended its meeting last night in Washington, D.C., without reaching a decision on whether to recommend approval of the settlement to the Brady v. NFL plaintiffs, according to SI.com, that process is expected to continue today.

Lawyers for both sides are nearly finished with the settlement, and it will go to the players today, although some issues remain unresolved.

After the NFLPA executive committee gives its recommendation, the 32-team player representatives assembled at NFLPA headquarters in Washington will debate the merits of the deal and make their recommendation to the plaintiffs.

If approval is given, the NFLPA would vote to re-form as a union, and a majority of players would need to approve the deal.

“The grass is cut, but the hay is not in the barn yet. We’ve got a lot of work to do,’’ NFLPA president Kevin Mawae told the Associated Press.

If the players approve the deal, it would be put to a vote by the owners tomorrow in Atlanta. If 24 of the 32 owners approve the agreement, team executives will spend the next two days being brought up to speed on the new rules in the CBA.

The league year, including free agency, likely would start on Thursday, July 28. Teams would have a three-day window to sign their own free agents starting on Monday.

That is contingent on the NFL reaching settlement with the 10 lead plaintiffs, a routine part of settling a class-action antitrust lawsuit, just as it was in 1993 with the resolution of the White v. NFL case.

All but Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson had given their verbal approval for the settlement, SI.com reported.

Yesterday morning, the NFL was told through NFLPA lead counsel Jeffrey Kessler that Jackson and Patriots guard Logan Mankins were seeking to become unrestricted free agents or receive $10 million as part of their settlements, according to an NFL source.

The source said it was communicated to the league that star quarterbacks Peyton Manning (Colts) and Drew Brees (Saints) wanted to be exempt from the franchise tag. Tom Condon represents both players.

Manning is currently under the franchise tag. Brees is in the final year of his contract.

Whether that request was directed by the players, their representatives, or from the NFLPA is unknown.

As of last night, the NFL source said the requests on behalf of Jackson, Brees, and Manning had virtually eroded. A further update on the request for Mankins was not available, but it was expected to fall in line with the others.

Brees vehemently denied personally asking for anything in the settlement.

“I want no special perks. My job is to get a fair deal for all players, and I am proud to represent them all - past, present and future,’’ he said. “All media claims about me wanting a personal reward for this deal are false.’’

Late last night, Jackson tweeted: “I have made no demands, I wanna play ball like the rest of my peers!’’

There was understandably a harsh backlash when word of the negotiations leaked out. Even Vikings punter Chris Kluwe criticized the four players for possibly delaying the negotiations.

If any players have the right to seek retribution from the NFL, it’s Mankins and Jackson, who are entering their seventh seasons but have yet to come close to unrestricted free agency.

Both were given restricted tenders in the 2010 uncapped year when unrestricted free agency was pushed to six years - because the owners opted out of the CBA. Both players had their tenders cut when they didn’t report to their teams until October.

“They’re asking for something they believe - and I think most people would believe - is fair compensation for what they’ve had to go through,’’ an NFLPA source told Yahoo! Sports, which first reported the Mankins and Jackson requests. “My guess would be that the owners or the league will pay them.’’

The NFL did not warmly receive the overtures.

“Two guys are going to hold up a huge payday for 1,898 other guys? After two years? When neither ever went to a meeting, a hearing, a mediation session, or even showed up in court? Good luck with that,’’ the NFL source said.

Jackson was at a hearing in Minnesota.

The likely resolution for Mankins and Jackson is that they receive a monetary settlement.

Manning and Brees still could receive an exemption from the franchise tag, but in the future. This is not without precedent. The White plaintiffs received an exemption from the franchise tag in ’93. But that was a different time, when free agency was in its infancy.

It is unknown what the other Brady plaintiffs - Ben Leber, Von Miller, Brian Robison, Osi Umenyiora, Mike Vrabel, and Brady - are seeking to settle the case, if anything.

Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller made it clear to reporters in New York that a deal to end the lockout would be reached this week, and that his class of retired players would not stand in the way.

“They want to get these games going, and they want to have a season. That’s their focus,’’ Eller said. “Our issues are very, very critical - very important - but they don’t really have much to do with whether the game goes on or not.’’

Eller said he hoped to do more work for retirees once the dispute is over.

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

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