WASHINGTON - The NFL Players Association executive board and 32 team reps voted unanimously Monday to approve the terms of a deal with owners to the end the 4 1/2-month lockout.
Owners overwhelmingly approved a proposal last week, but some unresolved issues still needed to be reviewed to satisfy players; the owners do not need to vote again.
The sides worked through the weekend and wrapped up the details Monday morning on a final pact that is for 10 years, without an opt-out clause, a person familiar with the deal told the AP on condition of anonymity.
Owners decided in 2008 to opt out of the league's old labour contract, which expired March 11. That's when the owners locked out the players, creating the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987.
NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith stepped outside of the group's headquarters in Washington at about 2 p.m. to announce that players approved the pact.
"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."
As he spoke, Smith was flanked by NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Colts centre Jeff Saturday and Ravens defensive back Domonique Foxworth, key members of the players' negotiating team. Brees is one of 10 plaintiffs in the antitrust lawsuit that players filed against the league.
Moments later, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walked into the building, joined by owners Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots, John Mara of the New York Giants and Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers.
"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 on Tuesday. Conversations with veteran free agents also could start Tuesday, 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.