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Published: Tuesday, 7/26/2011

Both sides finish talks feeling like winners

Owners get money; players can stay healthier

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK -- NFL owners and players were all smiles after agreeing on a new labor deal. And why not as both sides were feeling like winners.

It took a 4 1/2-month lockout to do it, but players came away with better salaries and benefits and safer working conditions. Owners, meanwhile, gain a higher percentage of the more than $9 billion in annual league revenues that figure to rise significantly.

"The whole deal for everybody is truly an upgrade," Chicago Bears kicker and player representative Robbie Gould said Monday. "If you look at the whole concept of the deal -- for the owners, obviously, they wanted a percentage back. We gave them a percentage back. For the players, workers compensation, the revenue sharing.

"I think at the end of the day, the deal is fair for everyone."

The biggest issue involved splitting revenue. In the new 10-year deal, the split is about 53 percent to owners and 47 percent to players. The old collective bargaining agreement was close to a 50-50 arrangement.

"This new agreement is fair for both sides. Neither side got everything they wanted," San Diego Chargers president Dean Spanos said. "It will give us labor peace for 10 years and helps secure the long-term future of the game. It will allow pro football to be even better, safer, and more competitive, and to grow and prosper into the future."

On the plus side for the players, there's:

● an increase in salaries and benefits, with the salary cap at $120 million, plus $22 million in benefits, for 2011. Owners must spend 99 percent of the salary cap in 2011-12 in cash;

● minimum salary increases of $50,000 that will increase annually;

● new work rules and shortened offseason workouts, which are expected to result in fewer injuries and perhaps longer careers;

● better health benefits, including more than $1 billion for post-career injuries.

On the owners' side, there's:

● more money to invest as gross revenues rise;

● labor peace for 10 years that makes it easier to work out long-term business deals;

● the ability to assist in the development of new stadiums because certain revenue was not included in total football revenues; and

● paying less money to untested rookies, specifically high-first round draft picks, although that money will be redirected to veterans.

Each side lost a little, too. The owners did not give the players an opt-out clause NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith sought, and the players retained a 16-game regular season that commissioner Roger Goodell wanted increased to 18 games.

"We didn't get everything that either side wanted ... but we did arrive at a deal that we think is fair and balanced," Smith said.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft apologized to fans for taking so long to reach a deal but said "the end result is we've been able to have an agreement that I think is going to allow this sport to flourish over the next decade."

There is still more to be done once the union recertifies and the almost 1,900 players vote to approve the new CBA. When that happens, items such as player discipline, drug testing, disability programs, and pensions have to be negotiated.

Cowboys tight end Jason Witten believes the length of the deal indicates a win-win conclusion to the often contentious negotiations.

"That kind of solidifies that both sides felt good about the deal and that it's a fair deal," he said.

Green Bay hopes to pack in a White House trip

MILWAUKEE -- Now that the NFL's labor dispute is coming to an end, the Green Bay Packers still hope to find a way to celebrate their Super Bowl victory at the White House.

They're working against a tight time frame.

Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy said a trip to Washington wouldn't be practical during the regular season but the team is working with White House officials to possibly schedule it in August.

That will be a challenge, given that coaches already have to pack extra preparation time into training camp after offseason practice sessions were lost to the lockout.

"We've since had some discussions, looking at whether we can find a date in August where the team could go down and visit the White House," Murphy said. "I hope we can make it. I think it'd be such a special and unique opportunity for our players."

Of course, President Barack Obama might have some scheduling concerns of his own -- especially with the clock ticking on the approaching debt limit deadline.

"I do realize that President Obama has more important things to deal with now than this," Murphy said.

The NFL generally prohibited contact between team officials and players during the lockout, although the league did make exceptions that allowed the Packers to conduct a "Tailgate Tour" that raised money for charity and hold a ceremony for players to receive their Super Bowl rings last month. The NFL did not allow the Packers to make a White House visit during the lockout.



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