It was in Atlanta where NFL owners in 2008 voted to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement with its players union. And it's in Atlanta where, maybe as soon as Thursday, owners could vote to agree to a new CBA that will end the lockout and restore the business of professional football.
Meanwhile, the players' side would present the agreement to player reps for all 32 clubs, who would vote on whether to recommend the settlement to the plaintiffs in the Brady et al v. National Football League et al lawsuit. The player reps were meeting Wednesday in Washington, D.C., where a vote is expected to take place once they see a document to review. The next step could be the recertification of the union, which requires all 1,900 players to vote, a simple majority to pass, and could be done by e-mail or conference call.
The NFL's labor committee will gather at an airport hotel Wednesday to go over the final terms of a settlement that lawyers have been hashing out for weeks, with the final touches having been worked on through late Tuesday night. Members of the labor committee will discuss any concerns and go over any questions with lawyers and members of the players association, if needed.
From that point, the committee will explain the elements of what could be a new collective bargaining agreement to all 32 owners -- or team representatives -- who will arrive Wednesday night and meet en masse Thursday. If 24 of the owners agree to ratify the terms of the deal, a new labor pact should be finalized and the ugly standoff that eliminated most offseason activities, kept players away from their teams and created fan angst and frustration could be over.
However, two NFL Players Association officials emphasized Wednesday morning that the 32 player reps won't be rushed as they review paperwork that could lead to an end to the lockout.
NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, a retired player, and George Atallah, NFLPA Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs, spoke to reporters about the players' ratification process.
"Our goal today is to see what's on the table," Mawae said. "Make no mistake, the players are not in a rush and are not tied to the timeline of July 21 (Thursday). Our timeline is the timeline that gets the best deal for the players.
"Whether it's today or tomorrow, we're not going to agree to any deal unless it's the right deal.
"At the end of the day, when we strike a deal, there's going to be stuff we don't like ... stuff that the other side doesn't like. That's the sign of good bargaining."
Having all 32 player reps together in Washington is a positive, Mawae said.
"We're in a good place -- all our guys are here," Mawae said. "The process is what we need to worry about. Today's meeting with our board is not to OK a deal and move forward. Our board is here, (so) if the deal in its totality is the right deal, they will pass it on."
There is a chance that the players' vote actually could take place by the time the owners gather to ratify the deal. If so, the owners' decision -- it is expected to be ratified -- would be the rubber stamp of approval.
From there, operational members from each team -- up to four from each franchise have been invited to Atlanta -- will almost immediately be given a tutorial as to how the league will re-start. Issues such as when players can report to team facilities, free agency rules, training camp procedures and salary cap issues will be at the forefront of those discussions.
Several coaches and general managers said they hope to get players into facilities immediately to have players take physicals, gauge their fitness, get them in classrooms and get re-acquainted. Training camps will start as soon as next week if a deal is ratified, and teams would like a few days to iron out those details before taking the field.
A frenzy of player activity, maybe unprecedented, also is in store. Teams should learn soon how quickly they can sign draft picks, negotiate with their own free agents, sign undrafted rookies, make trades, cut players and sign free agents.