COLLEGE PARK, Ga. — The country's most popular sport is in limbo for at least another day.
NFL owners overwhelmingly approved a tentative agreement Thursday to end the lockout, provided players re-establish their union and sign off on the deal. The players, however, didn't vote, saying they had not seen the full proposal.
Owners voted 31-0 — the Oakland Raiders abstained — and soon afterward, the league issued a press release announcing: "NFL clubs approved today the terms of a comprehensive settlement of litigation and a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association."
Then NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith sent an email to team reps saying: "Issues that need to be collectively bargained remain open; other issues, such as workers' compensation, economic issues and end of deal terms, remain unresolved. There is no agreement between the NFL and the players at this time."
Players held a conference call Thursday night and decided not to vote.
Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke on the phone several times Thursday with Smith, including filling him in on the results of the vote before it was announced.
"Hopefully, we can all work quickly, expeditiously, to get this agreement done," Goodell said at a news conference at an Atlanta-area hotel. "It is time to get back to football. That's what everybody here wants to do."
But several players took to Twitter, expressing opposition to the proposal. Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark wrote: "The owners want u to believe that they have been extremely fair everywhere and this is their 'olive branch' to finalize it."
The four-month lockout is the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987. And as a result, this season's exhibition opener was canceled Thursday — the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame game between Chicago and St. Louis in Canton, Ohio.
"The time was just too short," Goodell said. "Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to play the game this year."
Providing players eventually approve the agreement, team facilities would open Saturday, and the new league year would begin Wednesday.
Owners exercised an opt-out clause in the old collective bargaining agreement in 2008, setting the stage for the recent labor impasse. The new deal does not contain an opt-out clause.
"I can't say we got everything we wanted to get in the deal," New York Giants owner John Mara said. "I'm sure (players) would say the same thing. ... The best thing about it is our fans don't have to hear about labor-management relations for another 10 years."
Thursday's owners meeting near Atlanta's airport lasted nine hours — including breaks for lunch and dinner. Black limousines that lined up outside at midafternoon wound up waiting and waiting for owners to emerge. More than 100 members of the media packed into the lobby and lined the hallways leading to the conference room where the owners met behind closed doors.
After word of the owners' vote emerged, one fan at the hotel, Dave Gower of Knoxville, Tenn., said: "Finally. I don't understand why it took so long. I hope the players take it and run with it."
The old CBA expired March 11, when federally mediated negotiations fell apart, and the owners locked out the players hours later. Since then, teams have not been allowed to communicate with current NFL players; players — including those drafted in April — could not be signed; and teams did not pay for players' health insurance.
The basic framework for the league's new economic model — including how to split more than $9 billion in annual revenues — was set up during negotiations last week.
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