It took years of dialogue, a four-month lockout and an extra couple weeks of post-agreement garbage to get to this point, but one of the best sights any NFL fan will ever see took place Friday morning at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith sat down to sign and make official the new collective bargaining agreement.
After the signing, Goodell and Smith sat down with Rich Eisen of the NFL Network to talk about the significance of a day that will bring labor peace to the league for the next 10 years.
"It's a great day for our fans," Smith said. "Any time you can be in a place like Canton and be surrounded by the men who made our game great, and to do it on a day where we're celebrating the signing of a collective bargaining agreement is special. For the players and for the NFL, it was certainly a very long, sometimes arduous, process, to say the least. But today, we can celebrate something that's great for the fans and great for the game of football."
Goodell agreed. "People want football, and football is back. We think the agreement that we reached is going to be great for the game, it's going to be great for the fans and we are going to be able to grow the sport. I think this is a true partnership in trying to get that done."
Near the end of the lockout that began on March 11, it was Goodell and Smith who started meeting more and more to try and ensure that there would be no missed preseason games. The basic agreement on July 25 sat that up to be the case, though there was not enough time to prepare for the annual Hall of Fame Game in Canton. That game, which was supposed to be played this Sunday, was a small sacrifice to get the agreement done on time. After the NFLPA re-certified as a union, there were a few more deal points to be hammered out, and the 2011 league year finally started on Thursday.
"I think the one point in time which I think was critical for us is when we had the five players and De, and five owners and myself meet together," Goodell said. "Nobody else was around for three days, and we really had an opportunity to sit down and talk about how important this was to us, to the league, to the players. The players did an extraordinary job with De, and I think the owners did a great job because we listened. There was a tremendous amount of respect and an attempt to find solutions. Once we understood each other and we understood that that was what we were there for, we got it done."
Player benefits were important for both sides, as was injury protection — the game's retired players had no actual legal standing in the new CBA, but the ethical obligation of the current NFL to those players who built the game was enormous. "That piece is critical," Smith said. "And all throughout that document, while there might be things that folks in the media bite on sooner rather than later, when we look at the neurocognitive disability benefit and we look at changes that we've made in the disability process, those are things that over and above whatever test we're going to give to any player, those are things that we fought for and the owners fought for as well where we know that document now becomes something living for the men who played this game and the families who support us. So for us, it's a tremendous day because I do believe that we took a tremendous step forward."
There are still points to be negotiated — the player disciplinary process, the fine points of drug testing, and how the in-game contact rules will be addressed — but as Goodell said, it was all about getting past the "small stuff" and winning the war — on both sides.
"I think one of the things that is important anytime you enter into an agreement like this is that you're just starting a partnership. There are going to be plenty of things that we're going to have to continue to work on, there are going to be challenges that we're all going to be faced with over the next 10 years.
"Our job is going to be able to make sure that we can all look back 10 years from now and say that was a good deal for both sides."
Step one was to ensure that there will be football for the next decade, and that's been done.