NFL, Players Ready to Vote on Labor Agreement to End Four-Month Lockout

National Football League owners and players plan to vote today on an agreement to end a four-month shutdown and allow the U.S.’s richest and most popular sports league to start play on schedule.

Jeff Pash, the NFL’s chief labor negotiator, said the league’s labor committee met for five hours yesterday and the sides were ready to work all night ahead of a league meeting today in Atlanta.

“We’re going to work cooperatively with them through the evening and try to have something in place that both sides can vote on tomorrow morning,” he told reporters in Atlanta. “It’s obviously a complicated agreement, but I think both sides are at a point where they can close, they should close, and we should be in position to take votes.”

The proposed agreement would run for 10 years, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said today.

“That’s great news for the game, great news for both sides, players and owners as well,” he told reporters prior to the start of meetings. “We can focus on the game of football for a very long period of time and not have these distractions that we’ve had for the past couple years. I’m very happy about it.”

Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, said there was “some work to do today and it’s going to be an important 24 hours.”

“If we can get this done, it’s going to be an exciting period of getting ready to play football,” he said.

Players Meeting

Players’ representatives from each team met in Washington yesterday and didn’t see or vote on an agreement, according to a person familiar with talks who wasn’t authorized to discuss them publicly. A majority of representatives for the 1,900-member association need to approve a deal, along with at least 24 of the 32 clubs.

Kevin Mawae, president of the NFL Players Association, said players wouldn’t be rushed into approving a new collective bargaining agreement without understanding all aspects of the deal.

“There are a lot of issues, a lot of guys who we have to make sure are happy and feel comfortable with it,” he told reporters. “There’s a lot of legal stuff that needs to take place and we all know how long lawyers take.”

Revenue Split

Negotiators for the two sides tentatively have agreed on terms of a deal that gives players about 48 percent of a projected 2011 revenue of $9.3 billion, according to three people familiar with the negotiations who asked not to be identified because talks are confidential. The salary cap would be around $120 million, down about $8 million from 2009, the last year played with a ceiling on spending, the people said.

The agreement would also create a pay scale for rookies and free-agency rules that allow most veterans to negotiate with any team after four years, the people said.

NFL owners in March locked out players, who sued in federal court, led by Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

George Atallah, a spokesman for the NFL Players Association, said on July 18 that players want to settle multiple legal cases simultaneously. The sides also await a decision from U.S. District Judge David Doty on a players’ May claim for $700 million in damages after Doty found the league unfairly negotiated television contracts.

The NFL and players are trying to reach a deal before missing one or more rounds of preseason games, which the league estimates are worth about $200 million in revenue a week.

Training camps for the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears are scheduled to open tomorrow, with the teams slated to play the first preseason game Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio.

The regular season is scheduled to open Sept. 8 when the Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers host the New Orleans Saints.

To contact the reporter on this story: Aaron Kuriloff in New York at akuriloff@bloomberg.net; Michael Buteau in Atlanta at mbuteau@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net.

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