Sources: Free agency agreed on
NFL owners have agreed they will not put first-right-of-refusal clauses on 2011 free agents, a major breakthrough in talks with the NFLPA and progress toward a new CBA, sources told ESPN.com’s John Clayton.
It had been reported earlier that negotiations stalled because of the free-agency rule.
The players were unwilling to grant NFL teams extra right-of-first-refusals on this year’s free agent class, because many of those free agents were restricted under last year’s uncapped system.
Owners had asked that they have the right to designate three free agents whose contract offers from other teams they would have the right to match. Instead, players got what they wanted — four years of free agency with no restrictions.
As each side reached resolutions on other issues, owners dropped the demand, sources said. The breakthrough moves both sides to coming to resolution of a new collective bargaining agreement.
“Our legal and financial teams will continue to work through the weekend,” a joint statement from the owners and players said. “We will continue to respect the confidentiality orders of Chief Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan and will therefore refrain from commenting on specific issues or aspects of the negotiations. We will provide additional information as developments in this process.”
Neither side revealed any details, citing a gag order imposed by Boylan, the court-appointed mediator.
“I wouldn’t dare speculate on where we are,” said Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, one of six members of the owners’ labor committee participating Friday.
Upon exiting the meeting, NFL Players Associaton director DeMaurice Smith told reporters the lawyers will stay behind, but that he and commissioner Roger Goodell will continue to talk this weekend, possibly in person.
Also Friday, the NFL sent all 32 teams a memo saying it was working on an agreement and would hold a debriefing on it Thursday in Atlanta at the league meeting, team sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
The sources said no league business such as contracts, negotiations or practices with players, were expected to happen before that meeting. In the memo, the league also reminded teams that lockout rules from March 11 remain in place.
The recess in talks came a day after two crucial components to a collective-bargaining agreement fell into place.
A 2011 salary cap of $120 million and a rookie wage system, which was seen by sources familiar with the process as the last remaining major hurdle to a deal, have both been agreed to, sources told ESPN.
Compromises to the proposed $120 million salary cap have been made to help teams who have a lower revenue streams, according to sources.
The NFL and its players agreed on Thursday night to a $120 million cap with players agreeing to a team minimum cash payroll of 89 percent of the cap as long as the league-wide cash guarantee is 99 percent of the cap, sources said. For example, the Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills or Jacksonville Jaguars would be required to have a minimum cash payroll of $106.8 million in 2011. If they fail to reach that level by the end of the season, they would distribute the difference to the players on team at the end of the season.
League-wide, the 32 NFL teams must spend $118.8 million per team — $3.801 billion — in 2011.
That 89-99 formula stays in place for the first two years of a proposed new collective bargaining agreement. In the third year, the guaranteed spend of a team rises to 95 percent.
This adjustment was made for teams such as the Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bengals cash payroll would be at roughly $60 million if they release or trade wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and Carson Palmer sits out the season, removing $17 million from their payroll. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a current payroll of $63 million. Instead of having to spend to $120 million, the Bengals would have to spend $46.8 million in cash this year while the Bucs would have to spend $43.8 million.
The NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987 began in March, when owners locked out players after negotiations broke down and the old collective bargaining agreement expired. Now the preseason is just a few weeks away.
The Hall of Fame game that opens the exhibition season is scheduled for Aug. 7 between the St. Louis Rams and Chicago Bears, who hope to be in training camp by next weekend. Yet camps won’t start before a new CBA is in place.
Boylan, who has been on vacation, ordered both sides to meet with him in Minneapolis early next week, and the owners have a special meeting set for next Thursday in Atlanta, where they potentially could ratify a new deal — if one is reached by then.
Any agreement also must be voted on by groups of players, including the named plaintiffs in a class-action antitrust lawsuit pending in federal court and the NFLPA’s 32 team representatives.
“We made some progress; we continue to have a lot of work to do,” Smith said as he left Friday’s session at a Manhattan law firm. “I know everybody is frustrated, and they want a definitive answer. I hate to disappoint you; you’re not going to get one right now. We’re going to continue to work, and I think that’s a positive sign.”