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On Tuesday, 2011 draft picks and rookie free agents can be signed. That will be followed by camps opening, minimal practices for the first few days, and the wild free agency period.
"Chaos," said Jets fullback Tony Richardson, a member of the NFLPA's executive committee -- and a free agent. "That's the best word for it."
Only one exhibition game was lost: the Hall of Fame opener between the Bears and Rams, scheduled for Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio.
Otherwise, the entire preseason and regular-season schedules remain intact.
"Our players can't be more excited about going back to doing the thing they love the most," NFLPA president Kevin Mawae said. "We always said during this process we would do a deal when it's right and when it's the right deal. Our players did that. We stuck it out to the end."
Owners overwhelmingly approved a proposal to end the dispute Thursday, but some unresolved issues needed to be reviewed to satisfy players. The sides worked through the weekend and wrapped up nearly every detail by about 3 a.m. Monday on a final pact that runs through the 2020 season and can't be terminated before then.
That's significant because the old collective bargaining agreement contained an opt-out clause, and owners exercised it in 2008. That led to the contract expiring when talks broke down March 11; hours later, owners locked out the players, creating the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987 -- and longest in league history.
"I know it has been a very long process since the day we stood here that night in March," Smith said in a brief appearance about 20 minutes before being joined by Goodell and three owners. "But our guys stood together when nobody thought we would. And football is back because of it."
As he spoke, Smith was surrounded by some players, including Saints quarterback Drew Brees, one of 10 plaintiffs in the antitrust lawsuit that players filed against the league March 11. Two unanimous NFLPA leadership votes cleared the way for that case to be dropped and the lockout to go away: first, to recommend to the plaintiffs that they accept the settlement; second, to recommend that all 1,900 players re-establish the union.
All players will take a vote to re-certify the union -- it was dissolved March 11, turning the NFLPA into a trade association -- and then one more vote to approve the final CBA. It all needs to be wrapped up by Aug. 4 to make everything official, something everyone involved believes will happen without a hitch.
Only once it is back to being a union can the NFLPA finish the contract, covering remaining items such as player discipline, drug testing, disability programs and pensions.
The major economic framework for the deal was worked out more than a week ago.
That included dividing revenue; a per-club cap of about $120 million for salary and bonuses in 2011 -- and at least that in 2012 and 2013 -- plus about $22 million for benefits; a salary system to rein in spending on first-round draft picks; and unrestricted free agency for most players after four seasons.
Now, talk turns to the field.
"It will be kind of crazy," said Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, the team's player representative. "Nobody's been in these waters before, with free agency and so forth. Things are going to open up. It will be an interesting two weeks."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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