NFL Players Reps Approve Bargaining Agreement

Representatives of NFL players voted Monday to accept a new collective bargaining agreement with the league. That means training camps will open later this week — and a mad scramble for free agents and trades begins.

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We have a deal in Washington today with billions at stake, only this one involves professional football players, not politicians. Representatives of the NFL Players Union voted to accept a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with the league.

As NPR's Mike Pesca reports, that means the lockout is ending and the pro football season will go forward.

MIKE PESCA: The NFL was founded in a Hupmobile showroom in Canton, Ohio as the American Professional Football Association. Today, that name has changed, the showroom's been razed, and the Hupmobile is out of production.

Also lost is the annual hall of fame pre-season game held each year at a Canton stadium two miles from that Hupmobile showroom. But that game, that one game, is the only tangible casualty of what was a long and tense but ultimately less than destructive work stoppage. Fans will have their football.

At a press conference announcing the new deal, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft wanted it known that football didn't forget its fans.

Mr. ROBERT KRAFT (Owner, New England Patriots): First of all, I'd like, on behalf of both sides, to apologize to the fans that for the last five, six months we've been talking about the business of football, but 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.

PESCA: According to the deal, owners will pocket about 53 percent of the over $9 billion football makes each year. In return, players got several concessions, ranging from fewer days of practice in full pads, fewer tough off-season workouts, an opportunity to buy lifelong healthcare, and a rise in minimum salary.

At this afternoon's press conference, the two opposing showed warmth towards each other. There was ever a genuinely touching moment when Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday took time to thank all the wives, including the late wife of the Patriots owner.

Mr. JEFF SATURDAY (Indianapolis Colts Center): A special thanks to Myra Kraft, who, even in her weakest moment, allowed Mr. Kraft to come and fight this out. And without him, this deal does not get done.

PESCA: After those words, Kraft, a good head shorter than every member of the players or owners committee, tucked his head into the lineman's massive arms.

The last official step in this process is for the majority of the 1,900 or so players to vote to reconstitute the union they broke up as one of the tactics in their negotiation. If that all comes to pass, every team's training camp will be open by Sunday. Sports fans can rejoice unless their sport is the NBA, which is currently going through a lockout of its own.

Mike Pesca, NPR News.

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