NFL Players Association lawyers and officials have had time to begin digesting the league's proposal for a new deal, and several concerns remain regarding language contained in it and matters the players believe are unresolved, according to numerous sources with direct knowledge of the situation. Conversations with player reps and NFLPA officials revealed no sense that a vote on ratification was imminent, instead indicating that more time will be necessary to reach an agreement on the deal ratified and proposed by owners Thursday.
A deal will be done, and the framework of the CBA is in place, but there can be no global settlement and the start of a league year until more issues are resolved. Predicting that exact time has been impossible throughout the process -- it will get done, but no one can say exactly when yet.
"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," the NFLPA said in a statement released Friday morning. "There will not be any further NFLPA statements today out of respect for the Kraft family while they mourn the loss of Myra Kraft."
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith is spending Friday morning in Boston to attend Kraft's funeral. The wife of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft passed away Wednesday at age 68 after a long battle with cancer.
There is no player rep conference call set and no vote on ratification expected Friday within the NFLPA; that could change later in the day based on the ongoing discussions between the league and player lawyers, as well as the continued direct dialogue between Smith and commissioner Roger Goodell.
The issue of how, and when, the NFLPA would reform as a union remains paramount. There is a difference between the players and owners as to how that process would occur. The NFLPA's lawyers and brass believe there are "major problems with the process of reforming the union and settling the lawsuits," as spelled out in the proposal presented by the owners, according to one source.
There also remains a significant disconnect between the sides regarding how certain issues would be resolved that can only be formally drawn up once there is a CBA between the sides (there can be no CBA without the NFLPA recertification as a union). These issues include drug policy matters (such as HGH testing), issues of discipline for off-field problems and some matters related to work-place safety.
Several NFLPA reps have advised their teammates that this process could take several days to reach a point where the NFLPA is comfortable agreeing to terms and beginning the recertification process. Again, that could change if major gains are made in these negotiations.
The league advised team officials in Atlanta Friday that team facilities will not open to players Saturday, as was part of the proposal made to players, according to league sources. If the players were to ratify the proposed deal Friday then facilities would open on Sunday at the earliest, team officials were informed by the league. The process would then move back a day each from there depending on if/when the NFLPA ratifies.
Indeed, the language and league-year dates in the owners' proposal Thursday were "contingent upon ratification of the agreement by the players prior to these dates."
"We were told that the lockout was still in place; that's the way we handle it," Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway said. "We're just waiting."
NFL owners overwhelmingly approved a tentative labor agreement Thursday that would end the lingering lockout, provided that players re-establish their union and sign off on the proposal. But the players didn't vote, leaving the country's most popular sports league in limbo for at least another day.
At about 7 p.m. ET in Atlanta, NFL owners voted 31-0 -- the Oakland Raiders abstained -- to OK the labor deal, pending players' approval. Soon after, the league issued a press release announcing: "NFL clubs approved today the terms of a comprehensive settlement of litigation and a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association."
Less than an hour later in Washington, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith sent an email to the 32 player representatives 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."
NFL Players Association general counsel Richard Berthelsen later detailed issues he had with the owners' proposal in another email sent to the player reps.
"In addition to depriving the players of the time needed to consider forming a union and making needed changes to the old agreement, this proposed procedure would in my view also violate federal labor laws," Berthelsen wrote.
Then the players held a conference call and decided not to take a vote, saying they hadn't seen the full proposal approved by owners.
Buffalo Bills player rep George Wilson told NFL Network that there is "no timeline" for players to vote on the deal, and Cleveland Browns wide receiver/kick returner Josh Cribbs urged fans to be patient.
"We hate that it's being put out there that the lockout is over when the reality is that we've just made significant progress," Cribbs said. "We don't want the fans to look at the players in a negative way, but it's a process."
That process led Goodell to speak on the phone with Smith several times Thursday, including filling him in on the results of the owners' vote before it was announced.
"Hopefully, we can all work quickly, expeditiously, to get this agreement done," Goodell said at a news conference at an Atlanta-area hotel, site of the owners' meeting. "It is time to get back to football. That's what everybody here wants to do."
But several players took to Twitter, expressing opposition to the proposal. Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark wrote: "The owners want u to believe that they have been extremely fair everywhere and this is their 'olive branch' to finalize it."
Some players claimed that owners snuck some items in the deal, but NFL spokesman Greg Aiello disputed that notion.
"It's really not true," Aiello said in an interview on NFL Network. "Anything that we put in this press release was discussed and negotiated with the players. And now the next step is for them to approve it.
"I'm not sure what it is they didn't know about or are surprised about. But again, there's certain details that the owners just found out today or don't even know yet."
NFL Network reporter Albert Breer, NFL.com's Steve Wyche and the Associated Press contributed to this report.