ATLANTA -- NFL owners approved a 10-year labor agreement Thursday that Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson called "historic" because of its unprecedented length.
But the deal still needs the approval of the players, whose leadership held a conference call Thursday night to discuss the proposed collective bargaining agreement that would end the four-month lockout. Players said they needed more time to study the deal the owners approved 31-0, with the Oakland Raiders abstaining during the daylong meeting at a hotel near the Atlanta airport.
"We haven't seen a proposal," Panthers punter Jason Baker, one of the team's NFLPA reps, said in a text message. "Once we do we will take the necessary time to make sure the players understand the facts, then make the appropriate decisions at that time."
Richardson told reporters that owners had a handshake deal with players.
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"[After] we've negotiated so hard and they've received so many things they thought were important, I can't imagine why they would not" ratify it, Richardson said.
"We've done what we're supposed to do. We've done our half. It's their choice now."
NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith sent an e-mail to team reps saying: "Issues that need to be collectively bargained remain open; other issues, such as workers' compensation, economic issues and end of deal terms, remain unresolved. There is no agreement between the NFL and the players at this time."
Under the proposed terms, players would receive 48 percent of the revenues, which last year were $9.3 billion.
Doors open Saturday?
Players could return to team facilities beginning Saturday and teams could begin re-signing their own free agents and draft picks as early as Sunday, pending approval by the NFLPA. The league year -- with trades and full free-agent signings -- would begin Wednesday.
"It is time to get back to football," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "That is what we all want to do."
But the NFLPA first must re-certify as a union before it can approve a deal.
Players agreed to dissolve the union in March after labor talks broke down and the CBA expired. The move to a trade association allowed Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and eight other players to sue the league for antitrust violation.
NFL general counsel Jeff Pash said the league expects all of the outstanding lawsuits with the players to be dismissed.
In order to re-certify, the NFLPA needs a majority vote of its 1,900 players.
But not every player was happy with the proposal.
Saints tight end Heath Evans, on his Twitter feed, said owners tried to "slip many things [in] the CBA" that players had not agreed to.
"There's a sense of urgency to this," Goodell added. "We want to have a full 2011 season that includes the four preseason games, and we're up against the wall. I think that's indicated by the unfortunate cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game."
The league canceled the annual game in Canton, Ohio, scheduled for Aug. 7 between St. Louis and Chicago.
The first full weekend of preseason games is schedule Aug. 11-15, including the Dallas Cowboys' home game against Denver.
Jerry talks urgency
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones expressed concern more games could be missed if the players do not ratify the proposal.
"If you miss days, you miss games. We're down to that point," Jones said. "That's not a hard line. We had to cancel our Hall of Fame because the teams couldn't get ready."
In the CBA approved by the owners, free agency would return to pre-2010 rules, making players with four accrued seasons eligible for unrestricted free agency. Cowboys tackle Doug Free would be a free agent, for instance.
The salary cap would be set at $120 million per club. The Cowboys would be about $18 million over.
The rookie wage scale would not resemble the slotted system used by the NBA, but would be more of a "little version of the salary cap," according to Pash.