Ladies and gentlemen, our long national nightmare is over. The NFL is back!
Very early Monday morning, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports was the first reliable source to report that the owners and players reached an agreement in principle on a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith huddled late into Sunday night and into Monday morning at the NFLPA offices in Washington, D.C., going back and forth over the final terms via e-mail and conference call with the league's lawyers and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Among the last deal points on the table were the opt-out language in the new agreement — many now believe that there will be a seven-year opt-out clause with penalties for either side. In addition, all outstanding lawsuits must be rolled into a global settlement that could include the league's agreement to pay $320 million in benefits that were lost to players in the uncapped year of 2010.
On Monday, the NFLPA executive committee and the 32 player reps will vote to ratify the agreement following a conference call at 11:00 a.m. ET. That vote is seen as a formality at this point. Then, the 10 plaintiffs in the Brady v. NFL lawsuit must sign off as well. Players Vincent Jackson and Logan Mankins were going to stand in the way of that ratification at one point until their own individual demands were met, but that is no longer an issue.
New Orleans Saints quarterback and player rep Drew Brees sent a Sunday e-mail to teammates which said, among other things, that "The deal is almost done … it is expected that we will approve the deal as well as our board of reps and lead plaintiffs [on Monday]."
Assuming the deal is done Monday, here's an expected timeline.
On Tuesday, teams will open their facilities so that players can go in and vote to recertify the NFLPA as a union. That would be the day teams are also allowed to sign their draft picks and start talking to undrafted free agents (see our list of the best offensive and defensive UDFAs). On Wednesday, players will begin reporting to team facilities for things like physicals and workouts, and on Thursday, the schedule for training camps could begin. According to Glazer, 10 yet-to-be-determined teams wil begin camp on that day, 10 more on Friday, and the final 12 teams on Saturday.
At the same time, and on a parallel track, the NFLPA will begin the process of recertification, a process that could finish on Friday. That's when other deal points, sugh as drug testing and league discipline, will be negotiated -- the NFLPA must be a union for those things to happen. Free agency discussions would start on Wednesday, with a three-day window for teams to sign their own players before all players with four accrued league years not currently under contract would be thrown into a very large, very frantic free agency pool on Saturday.
A news conference is expected sometime Monday to announce the new deal, and we'll keep you up to date on all details as they happen.