Falcons' Blank thinks deal will get done
Blank said he is "optimistic" the NFL Players Association will accept terms of a new collective bargaining agreement on Thursday that would end the league's 128-day lockout. He also expects a "great majority" of teams will approve the deal should the NFL conduct a vote, as expected, Thursday at a league meeting in Georgia.
"The commissioner is very positive, and I think the owners are very positive," Blank said Thursday morning before entering the meeting. "We're looking forward to a deal that will end this lockout and get to football, which is what America, the owners and players want."
The owners have been told to expect to vote on the CBA between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET Thursday.
Meanwhile, the NFLPA has scheduled a conference call among its player representatives for 8 p.m. ET Thursday for a possible vote that would clear the CBA’s passage.
“Honestly, I think we are close to a deal,” a source told FOXSports.com.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA, cautioned reporters outside the union’s headquarters in Washington, DC, that there were still several pieces that needed to be put in place before a deal to end the lockout would be complete.
“We continue to talk,” said Smith, who took no questions from reporters perched outside in near-100-degree heat Thursday afternoon. “There are some issues outstanding that are left to resolve.”
Chief among them, Smith said, is union recertification. The same source told FOXSports.com that he didn’t believe the NFL’s demand that the NFLPA recertify as a union would impede a deal being completed. The players voted to decertify to purses multiple lawsuits against the league. For a deal to become final, the players would have to vote the union back into existence — and Smith said that’s not necessarily just a formality.
“Every individual person has to make a decision about whether they want to be part of a union,” Smith said. “Recommendations are made by the executive committee as advisors to the (players) or the board of directors as advisors to the (players). These are individual decisions . . . our players take extremely seriously.”
Smith added that he didn’t like what he’s heard from some owners — he didn’t mention any names — who question the legitimacy of the NFLPA.
“Guess what?” Smith said defiantly. “The decision to decertify was important because at the time we were a real union.”
Blank said the new CBA would be 400 pages in length and last for 10 years. That should bring some much-needed labor peace between the two sides after three years of bickering over the previous agreement.
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"We can focus on football for a very long period of time and not have the distractions like we've had for the past four months and really the last couple of years," Blank said. "I'm very positive about that."
Blank said "communication issues" might have kept the NFLPA from voting Wednesday on the CBA at a meeting of player representatives in Washington, DC. He said the NFL and NFLPA lawyers worked throughout Wednesday evening trying to remove the final impediments.
"They were not significant issues that had to be completed," Blank said. "I'm optimistic that we'll get their approval, hopefully today. If not, the league has the ability to ratify the agreement from an owners' perspective, subject to the players', obviously.
"When you get through a deal as complex as this, there are always issues — dotting I's, crossing T's — that have to be wrapped up at the last minute. This is pretty typical of any major financial partnership transaction. I've been involved in a number in my life, and it's not unusual to see this type of thing."
Blank said the work rules and calendar for upcoming NFL transactions and personnel (free agency, trades, salary cap, etc.) were still not finalized as of Wednesday night. However, there is a general understanding of how things will unfold.
NFL owners, general managers and assorted team personnel members — each franchise brought at least four player personnel employees to the Atlanta meetings — assembled again at 2:30 p.m. ET for what was expected to be a 90-minute meeting about how the new CBA's personnel rules will work.
Multiple NFL sources told FOXSports.com that owners still must agree on their own revenue-sharing plan, as well as vote to ratify a new CBA. It was unclear whether the two votes would be combined. But revenue sharing has emerged as another owner-sided glitch: Big-market teams, such as the Dallas Cowboys, are reluctant to surrender much of their new stadium revenue with smaller market clubs with older facilities.
Owners are expected to break from their meetings late Thursday and gather again on Friday for the funeral of beloved NFL figure Myra Kraft, the wife of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft who lost her battle with cancer on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the NFL GMs and player personnel groups from each team will convene for a series of free agency meetings at another Atlanta airport hotel. That symposium, which could extend well into Friday, is intended to instruct the personnel side how to proceed with player signings and free agency — with or without a player ratification vote.
"I know our coaching staff is prepared to go forward," said Blank, whose club is the defending NFC South champion.
Blank also is happy about a new labor deal because it will allow his team and players to interact again — something that was barred after the lockout that began in mid-March.
"It's difficult," Blank said. "We know our players. The players know the owners. There are personal relationships there that go on for many, many years. But I think everybody understands this is a process we’ve had to go through.
“It’s been done, I think, as professionally as it can be done on both sides. I’m pleased we are where we are today. I’m looking forward to getting to know our players again back on the football field.