WASHINGTON - Now it can be said with certainty: Get ready for some football!
NFL players voted to OK a final deal Monday, days after the owners approved a tentative agreement, and the sides finally managed to put an end to the 41/2-month lockout, the longest work stoppage in league history.
"This is a long time coming, and football's back," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, "and that's the great news for everybody."
At a joint appearance outside the NFL Players Association headquarters, Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith spoke shortly after the NFLPA executive board and 32 team reps voted unanimously to approve the terms of a deal.
"We didn't get everything that either side wanted ... but we did arrive at a deal that we think is fair and balanced," Smith said.
Owners overwhelmingly approved a proposal Thursday, but some issues still needed to be reviewed to satisfy players.
The sides agreed on a deal that runs for 10 years, without an opt-out clause.
Owners decided in 2008 to opt out of the league's old labor contract, which expired March 11.
"I know it has been a very long process since the day we stood here that night in March," Smith said. "But our guys stood together when nobody thought we would. And football is back because of it."
Saints quarterback Drew Brees was one of 10 plaintiffs in the antitrust lawsuit that players filed against the league. Those plaintiffs approved the deal.
"I believe it's important that we talk about the future of football as a partnership," Smith said.
A tentative timeline would allow NFL clubs to start signing 2011 draft picks and rookie free agents today. Conversations with veteran free agents also could start today, and their signings could begin Friday.
Under the proposed schedule, training camps would open for 10 of the 32 teams on Wednesday, 10 more on Thursday, another 10 on Friday, and the last two teams on Sunday.
The Atlanta Falcons are scheduled to open camp on Thursday.