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WASHINGTON (AP) — Let’s talk Peyton Manning touchdown passes, not antitrust lawsuits.
Finally, 4½ months after the NFL’s first work stoppage in 24 years, Commissioner Roger Goodell could say the words fans awaited: “Football’s back.”
With a frenzy.
Goodell and NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith both used that phrase Monday while announcing their agreement on a 10-year deal to end the lockout that began in March.
Players could report to team facilities today for physicals, meetings and to pick up playbooks. Training camps begin on Wednesday for 10 teams, with the other 22 starting workouts throughout the rest of the week.
“As a fan of the game, I’m pleased the two sides have reached a deal and, as a professional, I want to get back to work,” Manning said.
There’s tons of work to do, including what promises to be a wild free agency period. Teams, however can’t sign anyone until Friday.
The negotiations to end the lockout were anything but. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft took note of that.
“I’d like, on behalf of both sides, to apologize to the fans,” Kraft said. “For the last five, six months we’ve been talking about the business of football — and not what goes on, on the field, and building the teams in each market,” Kraft said. “But the end result is we’ve been able to have an agreement that I think is going to allow this sport to flourish over the next decade.”
Then came what may truly be the lasting image of the dispute’s resolution: Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday wrapped one of his burly arms around Kraft and enveloped him in a hug — a gesture that symbolized the acrimony’s end more than any statement could.
When Saturday spoke to reporters, he offered an eloquent tribute to Kraft, lauding him as “a man who helped us save football,” and to Kraft’s wife, Myra, who died Wednesday from cancer.
“A special thanks to Myra Kraft, who even in her weakest moment allowed Mr. Kraft to come and fight this out,” Saturday said. “Without him, this deal does not get done.”
Owners can point to victories, such as gaining a higher percentage of all revenue, one of the central issues — they get 53 percent, players 47 percent; the old deal was closer to 50-50. There’s also a new system that will rein in spending on contracts for first-round draft picks.
Players, meanwhile, persuaded teams to commit to spending nearly all of their salary cap space in cash and won changes to offseason and in-season practice rules that should make the game safer.
One important compromise came on expanding the regular season from 16 to 18 games, which owners favored. That can be revisited for the 2013 season, but players must approve any change.