The National Football League team owners have approved terms of a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with the National Football League Players Association and the terms of a comprehensive settlement to multiple litigations. The July 22, 2011 vote in Atlanta was 31-0,  with only the Oakland Raiders abstaining from the vote. Unfortunately, the owners’ vote did not result in finalization of a new collective bargaining agreement. The owners only ratified the final proposal that they presented to the players. Thus far, the Players Association has failed to ratify the agreement and has pointed to a series of issues they believe still need to be finalized between the parties before an actual agreement can be reached.

The biggest issue still outstanding is the settling two pending legal cases between the parties. These are the anti-trust case filed against the league by lead plaintiffs Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning and the “lockout insurance” case, which the court has already determined that the NFL improperly negotiated favorable television rights extensions to provide continued income to the NFL and its teams in the event of a lockout. Both of these must be resolved before the final language of the new collective bargaining agreement can be agreed to by the players.

One other key legal matter still to be addressed is the reestablishment of the Players Association as a union and as the collective bargaining representative of the NFL players.  The board members of the union have to formally recommend this action to the players and receive their approval before going through the legal process of reforming as a union, including the mandated legal processes at the National Labor Relations Board and the Internal Revenue Service.

Other outstanding issues for the parties include:

1)    Opt-Out Clause-The players want the opportunity to opt out of the agreement after the seventh year.

2)    Worker’s Compensation Rules-The owners want specific restrictions on retired players’ claims and the players want to retain the status-quo, allowing retired players to file claims in payout-friendly California.

3)    $320 Million in Lost Benefits-The players are still seeking reimbursement for the value of the benefit package the owners were not required to pay in the last year of the old collective bargaining agreement.

4)   Injury Guarantees-The owners have offered to guarantee the salary of injured players up to $1 million in the first season following the injury and up to $500,000 if the injury continues into a second season. The players want these amounts doubled in the new agreement.

These issues must be resolved before the league and its players will formally announce a new collective bargaining agreement and allow the league year to begin, the teams to allow players to return to their training facilities and the signing of free agents to begin.

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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.