NFL officials plan for team owners to vote today in Atlanta on a proposed deal that would end the sport's shutdown, even though the locked-out players decided Wednesday not to vote on the full proposal.
Player representatives met in downtown Washington to review the tentative deal but stopped short of sending it to a ratification vote of all the players.
"We're going to continue to work with the players," Jeff Pash, the NFL's lead labor negotiator, said during a news conference in Atlanta that followed a five-hour meeting of the owners' bargaining committee. "We'll find out if there are issues that still need to be negotiated, and we're going to work cooperatively with them through the evening and try to have something in place that both sides can vote on (this) morning."
The owners are expected to vote, even if the players aren't yet ready to do so, Pash said.
"Ratification is an independent process by each side, just as they could ratify something if we haven't voted," Pash said.
Asked if he would consider approving an agreement today, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson smiled and said: "I'm always ready for a vote."
Player representatives authorized their leaders Wednesday to finish the deal but not recommending a vote immediately underscored the need for the sides to resolve some issues.
"We still have a lot of work to do," said Pro Bowl offensive lineman Tyson Clabo, who played for the Falcons last season.
The remaining concerns, according to the Associated Press, are believed to include how to set aside three pending court cases: the players' antitrust lawsuit against the NFL in federal court in Minnesota; the TV networks case, in which players accused owners of setting up $4 billion in "lockout insurance," money that the league would receive even if there were no games played in 2011; and a collusion case, in which players said owners conspired to restrict salaries last offseason.
"We're not tied to a timeline of July 21," Kevin Mawae, the retired center who is the president of the NFL Players Association, said at a morning news conference. "Our timeline is that which gets us the deal that is the best deal for our players. So whether that's today or tomorrow or whenever it may be, we want to play football. … But we're not going to agree to any deal unless it's the right deal for all the players."
The owners' meeting comes with the scheduled opening of some training camps days away and no timetable for free agency yet in place.
The deal must be approved by at least 24 of the 32 owners. It must be separately ratified by a majority of the sport's nearly 2,000 players, who could vote by conference call or e-mail. The players could take a single vote to both approve the deal and re-form their union, which they dissolved in March.
If the deal is passed by both sides, team executives would be schooled in the guidelines and how to apply them; topics would include the calendar, rookie salary system and free agency rules.