The NFL lockout came to a close on Monday afternoon, as player representatives from all 32 National Football League teams approved a new collective bargaining agreement that the owners ratified last Thursday night. “Football is back,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at a joint press conference with NFL union leadership in Washington, D.C. Monday afternoon.
Training camps for 10 teams will open on Wednesday. Ten more camps open on Thursday, and another 10 on Friday. Camps for the last two teams (the New York Jets and Houston Texans) will start on Sunday. A rush to sign rookies and free agents — which include Oakland’s Nnamdi Asomugha, the best cornerback in the game, New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes, and Terrell Owens — will begin in earnest.
As in any fair collective bargaining deal, each side could claim a few victories. The revenue split between players and owners, which was about 50/50 under the old deal, is now about 53/47, in favor of the owners. The owners committed to spend, collectively, 99% of the salary cap in 2011 and 2012 — the cap is set at $120.4 million per team for 2011, a 6.25% percent decrease from 2009 — and 95% of the cap until the deal expires in 2021. The owners won restrictions on spending for rookies, but agreed to shelve the 18-game regular season game idea, which the players despised, until at least 2013, when it will be up for discussion.
Full-contact practices in the preseason and regular season will be limited. There will be no more training camp two-a-days, welcome news for players headed for camps in 90-degree heat. Though the NFL is still the only major pro league where the players don’t have guaranteed contracts, the players did receive an enhanced injury protection benefit: they can now receive up to $1 million of their salary for the contract year after their injury, and up to $500,000 in the second year.
One person who emerged as an influential figure down the stretch of the negotiations was New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. At the Super Bowl, Kraft was one of the more outspoken owners about the need to avoid a work stoppage. He even said it would be “criminal” if the parties didn’t reach a deal on March 4, the day the old agreement expired. Though both sides blew that deadline — the lockout lasted four and a half months — Kraft promised he’d sit at the table to get a deal done, and he fulfilled that pledge. Though his wife Myra, who died last week of ovarian cancer, was gravely ill, Kraft commuted back and forth from her bedside to the negotiation sessions.
Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday said Kraft “helped us save football,” and gave Kraft an emotional embrace at the press conference. If a Colt hugging a Patriot doesn’t symbolize labor peace, nothing will.
We can now put all the mediation and lawsuits and negotiating sessions behind us, and worry about the important things, like fantasy teams, and the parlor game of figuring out which players will sign with which teams. There’s even a report out there that Brett Favre is considering another comeback, this time to be Michael Vick’s backup in Philadelphia.
NewsFeed was tempted to make a Favre crack. Something about reinstating the lockout to keep Favre out of our lives. But we won’t, because the lockout sucked. So welcome back, Brett. And welcome back, NFL.