NFL Lockout: Three Remaining Steps Before Football Returns

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 16: Former NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith speaks to members of the media after leaving court-ordered mediation at the U.S. Courthouse on May 16, 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mediation was ordered after a hearing on an antitrust lawsuit filed by NFL players against the NFL owners that followed a breakdown of labor talks between the two in March. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The NFL and NFLPA are nearing the end of the lockout. Here are three more steps that must be completed before football returns.

The NFL lockout continues but there's finally a light at the end of the tunnel. The owners and players have gotten to the point where they're very close to finalizing settlement terms and hammer out the final details that will allow us to get back to our regularly scheduled football programming.

The process of these two sides coming to a signed, sealed and delivered agreement isn't as simple as saying, 'We agree, let's do this thing!' There are multiple steps remaining before football can return. To no one's surprise, the NFL and NFLPA can't agree on the process of ending the lockout but here are the three steps that need to be taken as best as we understand it.

First, the players need to resolve the settlement with the owners. Judging by DeMaurice Smith's letter to the players on Thursday night and the reaction from other players around the league, there are still final points to hammered out in the settlement so that's what the two sides will need to do first. What are those points? Depends on who you ask. The real point is that there are still issues on the table. Once they do come to a compromise on that, the final language will be put into the settlement and both sides will check off on it.

The final part of this step will be the vote. The players' board members will vote to recommend the settlement to the rest of the players, and then the 10 named plaintiffs will sign off on the deal. It's believed the named plaintiffs will do that without issue when the time comes (although Chargers WR Vincent Jackson could still be a problem). Finally, the court will give their seal of approval on the settlement.

Second, the players need to return to union status. They decertified back in March because, like the owners imposing the lockout, it was their best leverage point at that time. As part of the settlement, they'll need to reform as a union and, despite some of what you're hearing out there, I'd expect this to happen as part of the deal. (That's because it's highly unlikely the league would do the deal unless the players agreed to reform as a union.)

For this to happen, the players' board members will recommend to the players that they reform as a union. From there, a majority of the players -- more than 50 percent -- must sign physical union cards confirming their desire to return to the union. The process of actually signing these cards is causing some of the debate out there on how long this recertification process would take but once a majority of these players do sign the NFLPA can collectively bargain on behalf of the players.

After all that happens, the NFLPA will have to go through some administrative stuff to return to their status as a union.

Third, the owners and players need to negotiate on the collectively bargained items. Those stories you're seeing about waiting for the players to vote on the CBA? Yeah, that's not exactly accurate because there are issues that the NFLPA can't negotiate for the players until they reform as a union (even though the league clearly disagrees). These are collectively bargained items and they include things like drug testing, the process of filing a grievance and all that good stuff. This is an important distinction because many think issues like this have already been done. They haven't. They're issues that should only be finalized once the players return to union status and the NFLPA returns. 

If all goes well after all of that, and the players and owners agree on the finalized details, we'll be back to talking football. It's important to recognize that the players re-unionizing isn't as simple as checking a box and saying it's done. There are multiple steps involved, which create more talks with the owners, that will take a little time to nail down.

By almost all accounts, this thing will get done and it will probably get done within days. That's the important part when looking at the big picture. 

That said, as a fan, the daily waiting and waiting, with the return of football nearly in our grasp, is tough to swallow.

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