NFL Lockout: Eyeing a July 21st Ratification

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 17: NFL players' lawyers Jeffrey Kessler (L), Barbara P. Berens and James Quinn walk with former NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith after leaving court ordered mediation at the U.S. Courthouse on May 17, 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As the NFL lockout remains in place mediation was ordered after a hearing on an antitrust lawsuit filed by NFL players against the NFL owners after labor talks between the two broke down in March. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter offer an expansive write-up on ESPN for the negotiations as they stand now. Optimism that abounded a while back about a July 15th signing date appears to be waning, and we are now eyeing a July 21st ratification of a new CBA, two days after Judge Boylan returns to oversee the negotiations. The NFL and players are not in direct negotiations right now, but Albert Breer reports they might video conference tomorrow, and then meet again face-to-face on Wednesday.

The biggest bit from the ESPN report is that both sides appear to have settled on a total revenue split, the proposed numbers seeing players receive 48 percent of revenue and never less than 46.5 percent. ESPN also notes the deal is expected to last "no less than seven years and couid [sic] go as long as 10", which is all great news.

The two main breaking points left are the rookie wage scale and rights of first refusal on three free agents for the 2011 transition period. The players have flat-out rejected the latter. As for the rookie wage scale, there are numerous problems here. The players have agreed to cut rookie compensation in half but are absolutely adamant about rookies becoming free agents after four years. Jerry Jones proposed allowing first-round quarterbacks to be signed for five years, making the average of the top-10 of their position in year five, but he was shot down by other owners. If ESPN's reporting is correct, this is the biggest hurdle left. They quote a source involved with the talks as stating "The rookie wage scale is the only part I'm worried about. They've finished the other important parts. The only issue left that can cause a problem is the rookie wage scale."

ESPN notes the league could well implement an existing transition schedule that was compiled by team executives for a July 1st agreement, simply bumped up several weeks. Schedule follows after the break.

The dates are listed with the original July 1st schedule followed by the dates as adapted by ESPN.

• July 1 (July 21) -- Educate the clubs on the new league rules and allow voluntary training for teams and agents.

• July 5 (July 25) -- Sign undrafted rookies, as well as give free agents a chance to re-sign with their teams.

• July 8 (July 28) -- League year starts and free agency begins.

• July 13 (Aug. 2) -- Rosters must be set at 90 players.

• July 14 (Aug. 3) -- Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.

• July 18 (Aug. 7 ) -- A four-day match period for teams to match restricted free-agent offer sheets.

• July 23 (Aug 12) -- Deadline for rookies to sign contracts (not yet agreed upon).

• July 27 (Aug. 16) -- Signing period for restricted free agents ends, as does the signing period for franchise and transition tenders.

• Aug. 9 (Aug. 29) -- Deadline for players to report to earned credit for an accrued season toward free agency.

The most interesting bits are a rookie signing deadline, which would be useful but is not yet agreed upon. The key frenzy period would be around July 28th. ESPN speculates that with a July 21st ratification and this schedule only the Hall of Fame game might be lost or forced to reschedule. We'll not pretend the July 21st ratification is set in stone, but most of this is certainly good news.

To put some damper on said good news, SportingNews reports that outside counsel (as in lawyers) are pushing for the Brady et al v NFL suit to be turned into a class-action lawsuit. A class-action lawsuit would delay the legal process by at least 30 days, and the NFL has already stated they will not open camps if the legal process is ongoing. Bad news for everyone, so why would anyone want it? Well, sports labor attorney Mark Levinstein explains that the problem for the players with just dropping their antitrust suit once the negotiations are over is that this would affirm the decertification was a sham tactic and kill a lot of leverage in future negotiations. The lawyers' motivations are even easier to understand, as the story notes that "if a class is certified, the lawyers would likely become trustees of the class, which would earn them fees". Pushing the antitrust case could well result in judicial oversight of the league, something the NFL is adamantly against and which would definitely push them to continue the lockout.

I don't quite know what to make of that story. For now it's just rumors of an alleged push by the outside counsel towards the players, who will surely see the disadvantages of a class action suit as well. It is a worrying rumor, but it is just that, a rumor, and not one I'm putting a lot of stock in for now.

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