Calling the players' offer "fair for both sides," star quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees -- plaintiffs in an antitrust suit against the NFL -- said Wednesday "it is time" to wrap up negotiations on a deal to end the league's lockout.
Brady, Manning and Brees spoke as a group publicly for the first time with talks in a critical phase, four months into the league's first work stoppage since 1987. Players and owners met Wednesday morning at a Manhattan law office for the latest round of discussions. Talks continued into the afternoon.
Deadlines are coming up next week to get training camps and the preseason started on time. Although it seems the sides have agreed on the basic elements of how to split more than $9 billion in annual revenues, among the key sticking points recently have been how to structure a new rookie salary system and what free agency will look like.
In a statement released to The Associated Press via the NFL Players Association, New England's Brady, Indianapolis' Manning and New Orleans' Brees said: "We believe the overall proposal made by the players is fair for both sides and it is time to get this deal done."
They continued: "This is the time of year we as players turn our attention to the game on the field. We hope the owners feel the same way."
In response, the NFL issued a statement saying: "We share the view that now is the time to reach an agreement so we can all get back to football and a full 2011 season. We are working hard with the players' negotiating team every day to complete an agreement as soon as possible."
Brady, Manning and Brees are among 10 players who are named plaintiffs in an antitrust suit that is pending in federal court in Minnesota. That class-action lawsuit was filed March 11, hours after federally mediated negotiations to arrive at a new collective bargaining agreement broke down, and the old labor contract expired. The NFLPA immediately dissolved itself, meaning players no longer were protected under labor law but instead were allowed to take their chances under antitrust law.
On March 12, the owners imposed a lockout on the players, a right management has to shut down a business when a CBA expires. During the lockout, there can be no communication between the teams and current NFL players; no players -- including those drafted in April -- can be signed; teams won't pay for players' health insurance.
A series of court rulings followed, including one last week from an appeals court that said the lockout could continue.
Talks resumed in May, overseen by a court-appointed mediator, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, who is on vacation this week. Boylan ordered both sides to speak with him in Minneapolis next Tuesday, and the owners have a special meeting set for July 21 in Atlanta, where they could vote to ratify a new deal if one is reached.
That means there's intense pressure on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith to keep things moving in a positive direction. Disruptions to the planned preseason schedule would decrease the overall revenue pie.
Smith was among those arriving Wednesday morning for talks, along with powerful team owners Robert Kraft of the Patriots, John Mara of the New York Giants and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys.