National Football League players ratified a 10-year labor agreement with owners that makes the NFL the first major U.S. professional sports league with blood testing for human growth hormone.
Last-minute discussions on the drug-testing issue led to a delay in voting yesterday that forced some teams to push back the start of practice because veteran free agents who signed contracts weren’t allowed to take the field until the new agreement was ratified.
“The goal is to begin testing for HGH the first week of the regular season,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail last night. “Over the next several weeks, we will discuss and develop with the union the specific arrangements for the testing procedures.”
If the contract wasn’t ratified by yesterday, settlement of the players’ antitrust lawsuit against the owners would have been voided and the owners could have shuttered the league again.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and National Football League Players Association spokesman George Atallah sent out messages celebrating the official end of the 4 1/2-month standoff between owners and players.
“Ten-year CBA. Done. Congratulations players, owners and fans. Let’s play football,” Atallah posted to his Twitter account.
Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith will sign the agreement this morning at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the NFL Network reported. That was to have been the site of the opening preseason game in two days between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams, a contest that was canceled because of the work stoppage.
$120 Million Payrolls
Owners and players approved a deal that caps team payrolls at about $120 million this season, with players receiving about another $22 million in benefits. The players must receive at least 47 percent of the league’s revenue, projected at a record $9.3 billion in 2011, throughout the contract’s 10 years.
The agreement limits how much teams can spend on first-year players, allows current players to stay in the league’s medical plan for life and allows them more days off, with fewer offseason practices. The deal also provides between $900 million and $1 billion for retiree benefits.
The NFL returned to work last week, opening training camps and signing players to contracts while final terms of the agreement were being negotiated. The NFLPA, which decertified as a collective-bargaining agent when the lockout began, re-formed as a union on July 29.