ATLANTA — NFL owners approved a 10-year labor agreement Thursday, voting to end the four-month lockout and planning to open their team facilities by the weekend.
But players felt backed up against their end zone.
An hour after owners voted to ratify the agreement, the National Football League Players Association held a conference call with representatives from each team and decided not to immediately approve the pact because, it said, there were still unresolved issues.
As a result, the lockout remains in effect.
"Hopefully, we can all work quickly, expeditiously, to get this agreement done," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said after the owners voted 31-0 (with the Raiders abstaining) to approve the plan. "It is time to get back to football. That's what everybody here wants to do."
But NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith sent an e-mail to players shortly after the owners' ratification indicating no agreement had been reached.
"As you know, the owners have ratified their proposal to settle our differences," Smith wrote. "It is my understanding they are forwarding it to us. As you may have heard, they apparently approved a supplemental revenue sharing proposal. Only, we have not been a part of those discussions. As you know from (Wednesday), issues that need to be collectively bargained remain open. … There is no agreement between the NFL and the players at this time."
Said Bucs defensive lineman Gerald McCoy, via Twitter: "I'm glad the owners want to lift the lockout, but I hope the players don't rush it because they feel pressured."
Further complicating matters is the complexity of the NFLPA's ability to recertify as a union through a vote of its more than 1,900 members. The owners insisted the union must be reformed before any new contracts would be valid and training camps and free agency could begin.
The long negotiations already claimed one game. Goodell said Thursday that the Hall of Fame preseason game between the Bears and Rams scheduled for Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio, has been canceled.
"There is an urgency to this," Goodell said. "We want to have a full 2011 season that includes the four preseason games. We're up against the wall."
Owners who filed out of the meetings at the Atlanta Gateway Marriott felt convinced their work was done and that players would ratify the agreement.
"Ultimately, we're just happy for the fans and for everybody to get back to what everyone loves, and that's football," Bucs vice chairman Joel Glazer said. "There's still some stuff to happen from their side. I think everyone worked really hard, and it was a long time coming. We all love football and just want to get back on the field and see football."
As part of the agreement, NFL chief negotiator Jeff Pash said the players would have to agree to dismiss the pending antitrust litigation from all 10 plaintiffs in Brady vs. the NFL as well as any other outstanding legal challenges.
"We would expect that as part of this agreement," Pash said. "Litigation will be dismissed. Disputes will be resolved, and we will go for the next 10 years as business partners for the betterment of the game."
Goodell made it clear the issue was on the players' side of the field. Players have until July 29 to try to bargain any changes, which must be agreed to by owners to become part of the final accord on July 30.
According to the timeline announced by the owners, training facilities could be open as early as Saturday. Teams would be able to negotiate contracts with draft picks and their free agents. Pending the players' approval of the deal and recertification of the union, the "league year" would start Wednesday, when teams could open training camps and begin signing unrestricted free agents.
Goodell believes ratifying the deal should be a certainty because the NFLPA helped negotiate it.
"The clubs approved an agreement that was negotiated with the players," he said.
The agreement includes changes in rules for player safety, insurance and retirement benefits, a new rookie salary cap and an increase in minimum salaries and cash spending for signing bonus and salaries on the $120.375 million salary cap.
Among the highlights:
• The agreement runs from 2011-2020 and includes the 2021 draft with neither side allowed to opt out.
• The creation of a fund from the savings of a rookie salary pool to redistribute savings to player retirement benefits and a veteran performance pool.
• The offseason program will be reduced by five weeks and from 14 organized team activities to 10.
• Players will have an opportunity to remain in the league's medical plan for life.
• No change in the preseason (four games) and regular season (16 games) until at least 2013 with any increase of regular-season games needing approval by the players.
Several owners expressed disappointment they didn't win more concessions but said dissatisfaction on both sides was evidence of a fair deal.
"I'm not necessarily happy about everything," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "Still, I think it's something that will move us forward, move the league forward and will be great for our fans."
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com.