WASHINGTON - (AP) - Now it can be said with certainty: Get readyfor some football!
NFL players voted to OK a final deal Monday, days after theowners approved a tentative agreement, and the sides finallymanaged to put an end to the 4½-month lockout, the longest workstoppage in league history.
"This is a long time coming, and football's back," NFLCommissioner Roger Goodell said, "and that's the great news foreverybody."
The labor dispute comes to a close after claiming oneexhibition: the Hall of Fame game between the Bears and Rams,scheduled for Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio. Otherwise, the entirepreseason and regular-season schedules remain intact. Clubfacilities will open to players Tuesday, when 2011 draft picks androokie free agents can be signed.
Getting back to business could be wild.
"Chaos," said Jets fullback Tony Richardson, a member of theNFL Players Association executive committee. "That's the best wordfor it."
At a joint appearance outside NFLPA headquarters, Goodell andNFLPA head DeMaurice Smith shook hands, surrounded by some of theowners and players who were involved in the talks. They spokeshortly after the NFLPA executive board and 32 team reps votedunanimously to approve the terms of a 10-year deal.
"We didn't get everything that either side wanted ... but wedid arrive at a deal that we think is fair and balanced," Smithsaid.
Owners can point to victories, such as gaining a higherpercentage of the more than $9 billion in annual league revenues,one of the key issues throughout. Players persuaded teams to committo spending nearly all of their salary cap space in cash and wonchanges to offseason and in-season practice rules that should makethe game safer.
If there was one unexpected moment during the press conferenceit was certainly Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday's eloquenttribute to New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, who was lauded asinstrumental in helping forge the deal. Kraft's wife, Myra, diedWednesday after a battle with cancer.
"A special thanks to Myra Kraft, who even in her weakest momentallowed Mr. Kraft to come and fight this out," Saturday said."Without him, this deal does not get done. ... He's a man whohelped us save football."
With that, Saturday wrapped Kraft in a hug - a gesture thatsymbolized how the lockout ended more than anyone's words.
Owners overwhelmingly approved a proposal to end the dispute onThursday, but some unresolved issues needed to be reviewed tosatisfy players. The sides worked through the weekend and wrappedup nearly every detail by about 3 a.m. Monday on a final pact thatruns through the 2020 season and can't be terminated before then.
That's significant because the old collective bargainingagreement contained an opt-out clause, and owners exercised it in2008. That led to the contract expiring when talks broke down March11; hours later, owners locked out the players, creating the NFL'sfirst work stoppage since 1987.