"Football is back''
With owners and players standing side-by-side at a joint news conference in the nation's capital, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke the words football fans have waited to hear.
"It's been a long time coming and football is back,'' Goodell said outside the NFLPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Monday. "That's the great news for everybody.''
Representives of NFL Player's Association for all 32 teams voted unanimously to ratify the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement that NFL owners approved last Thursday.
"I want to thank (NFL Executive Director DeMaurice Smith) and all of the players for their leadership and securing the long-time future of the game,'' Goodell said. "Having a 10-year agreement is extraordinarily great for our game, but mostly, for our fans. Everybody worked hard, everybody had a passion and everybody believes in this game of football and what we can do to make our game better. I think this agreement is going to make our game better.
"We're grateful for all the work that both parties did to make sure that we came to this game today and make sure for the fans we can stand here and say, "Football is back.''
With the lockout over, teams can begin compiling a 90-man roster and will be given a list of free agents from the league. Players can return to their team's facilities Tuesday on a voluntary basis for meetings, training and physicals . Teams can begin signing undrafted free agents and their draft picks, as well as negotiating with all free agents, on Tuesday at 10 a.m. On Wednesday, players will report to training camp, 15 days before their first preseason game. The Bucs are scheduled to report to training camp on Thursday.
Also on Thursday, NFL teams can begin to terminate contracts and releasing players. On Friday, teams can renegotiate contracts and begin signing restricted free agents.
The agreement runs through the 2012 season and includes no opt outs by either side. The final act of the new CBA will be the 2013 NFL draft.
Goodell was flanked in the news conference by Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Giants owner John Mara, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. NFLPA President Kevin Mawae, Colts center Jeff Saturday, Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth and Saints quarterback Drew Brees were among the players surrounding Goodell and Smith.
"I would like to say what a pleasure it's been for us to work with the players in this negotiation,'' Richardson said. "As a former player myself, the relationship conversations we've developed I think will serve us well for a long time and we're delighted we have an agreement that's going to serve the NFL, our players, our teams and our fans for many years to come.''
NFL players still have to vote to re-certify as a union before they can collectively bargain issues such as drug testing, player discipline and workman's compensation.
Saturday especially credited Kraft, whose wife, Myra, died July 20 after a long battle with cancer, for his role in negotiations.
"A special thanks to Myra Kraft, who even in her weakest moment, allowed Mr. Kraft to come and fight this out. And without him, this deal does not get done,'' Saturday said. "I don't want to be climatic in any way, but he is a man who helped us save football.''
What helped to end the four-month lockout was the growing relationship and trust between Goodell and Smith, who were in constant communication, especially during the final weeks and days of the negotiation.
"Relationships are built on respect and D and I have that for one another,'' Goodell said. "We have a trust that we're both in this to do the best we can for the game of football and our constituents. I think you can't reach a 10-year agreement without that. He's a great leader for his players. He never lost his passion. We listen to one another, which I think is critically important. And we have respect for our various constituents. I think the players, under D's leadership, have done an extraordinary job.''
Goodell acknowledged that the protracted work stoppage was an irritation to NFL fans and but said the new deal and extended labor peace will be beneficial to the game in the long run.
"From a commisioner's perspective, we know what we did to frustrate fans over the last several months,'' Goodell said. "They want football. Our job is to give them football. We think through a 10-year agreement, we've secured the future of the game to ensure that pledge to bring great football to our fans. I think we have some work to do to make sure they understand we are sorry for the frustration we put them through over the last six months, but our commitment is to bring them better football going forward.''