NFL owners and players agree on new labor deal

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After a 4-and-a-half month lockout in the National Football League, players and owners finally agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement earlier this week.

"The whole deal for everybody is truly an upgrade," Robbie Gould, Chicago Bears kicker and player, told Associated Press. "If you look at the whole concept of the deal - for the owners, obviously, they wanted a percentage back. We gave them a percentage back. For the players, workers compensation, the revenue sharing," he said.

According to the agreement, the players came away with better salaries and benefits and safer working conditions. And the owners are gaining a higher percentage of the more than $9 billion in annual league revenues, expected to rise significantly.

"I think at the end of the day, the deal is fair for everyone," notes Gould.

The biggest issue in the labor dispute was splitting the league's revenue. In the new 10-year deal, the split is about 53 percent to owners and 47 percent to players. In the old contract, that percentage was closer to a 50-50 arrangement.

For the players, they will receive an increase in salaries and benefits, with the salary cap at $120 million, plus $22 million in benefits, for 2011. The owners are obligated to spend 99 percent of the salary cap in 2011-12 in cash. The players also won new work rules and shortened offseason workouts, which they say will result in fewer injuries and the probability of longer careers. Better health benefits, including more than $1 billion for post-career injuries are also part of the deal.

The owners are gaining more money to invest as gross revenues rise. Owners note the new ten-year labor deal will make it easier for them to work out long-term business deals. Owners are also happy that they will have more money to assist in the development of new stadiums. They also note they now have the ability to pay less money to untested rookies especially high-first round draft picks. That savings will now be redirected to veteran players.

However, both sides did not get everything they were hoping for.

The players didn't win from the owners the opt-out clause sought by NFL Players Association (NFLPA) chief DeMaurice Smith. Yet the players have retained a 16-game regular season over 18 games, which NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was pushing for.

Smith told the Associated Press, "We didn't get everything that either side wanted ... but we did arrive at a deal that we think is fair and balanced."

The owners and players say the new deal indicates a win-win conclusion to months of contentious negotiations.

After the union recertification and the vote by the nearly 1,900 players to approve the new agreement, issues like player discipline, drug testing, disability programs and pensions will still have to be worked out and negotiated.

According to Dave Zirin, sportswriter for The Nation, despite the overarching football lockout, one of the longest work stoppages in NFL history, the players and their union walked away from the new deal as the real winners.

Summarizing the lengthy negotiation process, Zirin writes, "At the opening kickoff, the sides weren't close to evenly matched. I think that what the NFLPA has done is the equivalent of the Bad News Bears squeaking out a victory against the 1927 New York Yankees. It's The Haiti Kid taking down King Kong Bundy. It's workers, in an age of austerity, beating back the bosses and showing that solidarity is the only way to win."

Zirin concludes, "In the end, this deal - against all odds - is a victory for players, their families, their health and their long-term financial solvency. It's also an example for workers across the country. There is power in labor and there is power in solidarity."

Photo: NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, right, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)