What The Players And Owners Got In NFL Deal

Let the games begin. Now that the NFL lockout is over, the talk is turning to free agents and possible trades as the league, players and fans get ready for football.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The two sides got together, talked over their differences about money and finally came to an agreement. I suppose we should specify we're talking here about pro football. One hundred and thirty-six days after being locked out by owners, NFL players agreed yesterday to a 10-year labor agreement. Teams can start signing rookies and some free agents today. And some training camps open as early as tomorrow. NPR's Mike Pesca reports.

MIKE PESCA: The other team has the ball on their own two yard line, down 3. Fine, no problem. But there's a short screen, then a long pass, a scamper out of bounds and a series of first downs. Youve gone from the good kind of nervous, to the peptic ulcer kind.

But just as you and your fellow fans are about to bite off your foam fingers the opposing quarterback throws an interception. It takes only a few seconds to totally forget the angst and worry of the prior moments. Thats kind of the case with the NFL labor negotiation that just played out.�

Mr. GABE FELDMAN (Director, Sports Law, Tulane University): It went according to script.

PESCA: Gabe Feldman is the director of Tulane University's sports law program.

Mr. FELDMAN: We knew all along if this deal didnt get done by March 11th it likely wouldnt have gotten done until it wound its way through the courts and we were just on the verge of missing games, and thats where we are today.

PESCA: And so we suffered through hyperventilation from Steeler to Raider nation, but really, the logic of the situation, never changed. The owners wanted more money. They got it. The players wanted greater work place safety. They got it, in the former of fewer practices and better health care.

Thats not to say that every part of the deal is unexceptional. While it's true that the average salary will go down, it could also be the case that the average player could be paid more. Andrew Brandt, founder of the National Football Post and a former team executive and player agent, explains how that works.

Mr. ANDREW BRANDT (Founder, National Football Post): Thats the unsung hero of this deal - minimum salaries. It doesn't sound like a lot, but they're all going up by $55,000. About 900 of the 1,900 NFL players are making minimum salaries. So you add all that up, that will bring up the low into more of a middle tier than we've had before.

PESCA: Also consider that the very top draft picks will be making far less money. Another boon to players is that the smaller market, or to put it nicely, thriftier teams like the Bengals, Bills ands Jaguars will have to maintain a payroll of at least 89 percent of the big time teams. Andrew Brandt says this means that the players in the smaller cities won't necessarily receive smaller paychecks.

Mr. BRANDT: This is a new part of this agreement we've never had in the NFL before. They will spend and that will rise all boats from the player angle.

PESCA: A burgeoning middle class, the eradication of skinflint outposts, the end to an elite crop of youngsters receiving disproportionate pay, greater emphasis on heath, a surprisingly lengthy 10-year deal. Has the NFL backed its way into the most socially progressive labor agreement ever?

Well there are no provisions for employee nursing stations, but it seems that by giving up some money - OK, many millions - the NFL players have achieved a workers paradise. You know, except for all the broken bones and everything.

However pleased both sides are with the deal, everyone knows that players and owners are not the games most important constituency. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke at a joint press conference after the deal was announced.

Mr. ROGER GOODELL (Commissioner, National Football League): I think we have to make sure we understand that our bond with our fans is probably the primary issue that all of us have to keep focus on, whether you're a player, whether you're an owner, or whether you're a commissioner.

PESCA: Fans should be thrilled they won't miss even the preseason games they grouse about having to pay for. Owners and players get a decade of peace and profits, though players still have to vote to reconstitute their union, which dissolved as one of the tactics of these negotiations. But soon the only talk of arguments and judges decisions will be a red faced coach strongly suggesting a back judge blew a pass interference call.

Mike Pesca, NPR News.

INSKEEP: And you hear Mr. Pesca right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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