Brown, owners vote to end lockout as players pause

Updated: 11:55 p.m.

Bengals president Mike Brown, saying his team is ready to report on time at Georgetown College on July 28, says he supported Thursday's 31-0 vote by owners to end the NFL lockout simply because it meant the game was back after a 132-day hiatus.

"It's why we all voted for it; it's time to play," Brown said from Atlanta. "It's a great day. I think it's a good deal for all sides. The players got a good deal out into the future and got things looking at the safety issue. It's good for the fans. They won't miss football. It's for 10 years. And it's a good deal for the owners."

In an odd, almost parallel universe sort of way, Brown and the rest of the owners were waiting for the players to pass their own resolution and recertify as a union, yet the vote never came Thursday night.

Despite a torrent of player discontent, even though NFL commissioner Roger Goodell acted as if he had a deal with De Smith, his counterpart for the players, there was hope that once the players had time to digest the deal that they would approve it in the next 24-48 hours in order to get camps underway and not miss any preseason games.

But the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame Game has been canceled.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen tweeted the players could vote as soon as Friday. It's believed the Bengals could go to Georgetown as late as Aug. 1 or 2. But if there's nothing by Aug. 3, that could wipe out the Aug. 12 preseason opener in Detroit. 

In wake of the owners' vote, the NFL released a comprehensive setlement of litigation and the core of the new collective bargaining agreement it said had been negotiated with the players and unveiled a schedule in which facilities would open Saturday, when the Bengals can begin to sign their own veteran free agents, drafted rookies, restricted free agents, and exclusive rights players.

The league year is slated to begin Wednesday, when free agency and the trading period opens, but only if the union has re-formed, a major point of contention Thursday night. Brown said the team can't talk to players until the players' executive board approves it and the union recertifies.

Brown plans to get more information in Friday's CBA seminar. The league has indicated the players can enter Paul Brown Stadium Saturday without recertification, but that the league year can't start without recertification. 

After the vote, Goodell said he expected the players to pass their own lockout-ending proposal. But NFL Network reported that Smith sent an e-mail to players after the owners' vote that there was no deal between the NFL and the players. The players then later released a statement saying they felt being coerced back into a union could be a violation of labor law and balked at the July 26 deadline for recertification with indications they are concerned about non-economic factors such as discipline, drug testing, off-season workouts, and the status of the union.

An e-mail from player counsel Richard Berthelsen reported by NFL Network said the league "in addition to depriving the players of the time needed to consider forming a union and making needed changes to the old agreement, this proposed procedure would, in my view, also violate federal labor laws. Those laws prohibit employers from coercing their employees into forming a union and could result in any agreement reached through the procedure being declared null and void."

Berthelsen also bristled at the league's demand "players reform as a union and provide evidence by Tuesday, July 26, that a majority of players have signed union authorization cards."

Players interviewed on NFL Network Thursday night didn't have specific gripes, but indicated they didn't like the deal being shoved down their throats and wanted time to digest the proposal without being rushed by the league's timeline to avoid missing preseason games.

"I think everyone is trying to digest the proposal and read through everything," Bengals safety Chris Crocker told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "I thought everything would end pretty much around camp. There's a lot of money that both sides stand to lose."

The owners approved a $120.4 million salary cap and a 99-percent cash floor in 2011-12 and 95 percent from 2013-2020, as well as a reduced and hard cap rookie pool that reportedly has no voidable years or option bonuses. The proposed agreement cited strong, anti-holdout elements but didn't have specifics. The seven-round draft was left intact. 

NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash told Alex Marvez of that while the rookie pool has been reduced and simplified, agents can still negotiate because "it preserves the key thing from what we were told was the key thing for the players — mainly the right to continue individually to negotiate compensation within that system."

Goodell said the owners approved a supplemental revenue-sharing plan, a topic that Brown considers extremely important to small-market clubs like the Bengals and was a major reason he was one of two owners to vote against the dead CBA in 2006. It was a big part of the discussion the past two days, but Brown said that's not why he voted for the deal.

"It was a tail wagging the dog. You can't let the tail wag the dog," Brown said. "The dog was getting a deal in a timely fashion. That was the biggest thing."

Pash told Marvez that there have been significant changes in how clubs are going to share revenue.

"It addresses more of the clubs that are on top of the revenue scale," Pash said. "It will be a pro rata type of funding rather than what we had in the old system where if you ranked in a certain area you would pay this much, this much and this much. It's more finely tailored to individual clubs."

The Bengals were part of the 31-0 vote—the Raiders abstained—but the lockout was still in place. Team officials were supposed to attend an education seminar once owners approved the CBA, but NFL Network reported that session has been postponed to Friday. Brown was in attendance with Bengals vice presidents Katie and Troy Blackburn and Paul Brown. 

The NFL also said after the vote that its personal conduct policy is going to be in effect for any issues that occured during the lockout, a big question for one of the Bengals free agents, running back Cedric Benson.

On Wednesday, Benson's lawyer accused the man charging him with assault of extortion. On Thursday, the lawyer for Clavens Charles denied it.

Various elements of the new CBA leaked out via Twitter on Thursday from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, such as agent fees for rookie contracts dropping from three to two percent and the maximum camp roster set for 90 players.

The first of many challenges greeting head coaches are reported rule changes limiting clubs to one practice per day at training camp, according to various reports. The Bengals' Marvin Lewis usually has five to six double sessions at Georgetown, capped off by a night practice. But it's unclear what constitutes a practice, so what happens to that schedule is in limbo.

Lewis is also going to have to deal with another major practice change during the regular season with one of the new rules reportedly limiting clubs to 14 padded practices per year, as reported by NFL Network. 

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