WASHINGTON -- Sorry, football fans.
The NFL is stuck in a holding pattern, with work still to be done to end the lockout. Heck, the players haven't even scheduled a vote.
People from both sides of the labor dispute planned to talk through the weekend -- although not face-to-face -- to try to resolve the differences that are preventing players from accepting the owner-approved proposal that would put the league back in business.
After the NFL Players Association decided not to vote Thursday or Friday, it's possible the group won't make any decision until next week. It depends on how long it takes to resolve the remaining differences.
Clubs already were told not to expect players to begin arriving at facilities today, when owners hoped gates would open.
"Now it's just waiting," Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said at an Atlanta hotel where team executives were briefed Friday on new rules for next season. "Be flexible, and wait and see what happens."
Owners ratified the tentative terms 31-0 -- the Oakland Raiders abstained -- on Thursday, provided players would give their OK, too, and re-establish their union.
But players decided later Thursday not to hold a vote, saying they hadn't had a chance to see a finished product. By Friday, it was in hand.
"Player leadership is discussing the most recent written proposal with the NFL, which includes a settlement agreement, deal terms and the right process for addressing recertification," NFLPA president Kevin Mawae said in a statement.
The next step
Even when players decide they're OK with a final agreement, their approval process is more complicated than the owners' was. The 32 team reps will have to recommend accepting the settlement. Then the 10 named plaintiffs in the players' lawsuit against the league -- including Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees -- must officially inform the court of their approval.
Eventually, all 1,900 players would take a majority vote to approve returning the NFLPA to union status.
When talks broke down in March, allowing the old collective bargaining agreement to expire, the players dissolved the union, turning the NFLPA into a trade association.
That's what allowed the players to sue the owners in federal court under antitrust law.
Only after the NFLPA is again a union can it negotiate certain parts of a new CBA.
The major economic framework for a 10-year deal was worked out a week ago.
That included how the more than $9 billion in annual league revenues will be divided (about 53 percent to owners and 47 percent to players over the next decade; the old CBA resulted in nearly a 50-50 split); a per-club cap of about $120 million for salary and bonuses in 2011 -- and at least that in 2012 and 2013 -- plus about $22 million benefits; a salary system to rein in spending on first-round draft picks; and unrestricted free agency for most players after four seasons.
Already, one game is sure to be lost: The league called off the Hall of Fame exhibition opener, scheduled for Aug. 7 between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams.
As of Friday evening, the NFL still aimed to start the league year next Wednesday.
Small markets benefit
Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt believes the owners' proposal ensures there will be a place in the NFL for teams in smaller markets such as the Packers, Jaguars and his Chiefs.
"With this labor agreement, whether you're in a large or midsized market, everybody's going to have an opportunity to play for a championship," Hunt said.
The Chiefs, a regional team in one of the league's smallest TV markets, lack the potential revenue stream from luxury suites and other innovations that have expanded earnings of large-market franchises.
But the new agreement would make sure the Chiefs are not put at a competitive disadvantage and ensure that historic franchises such as the Packers will have the opportunity to continue competing with teams in high-revenue centers.