A deal at last!

The NFL and its players union have settled on terms for a a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The six-year extension will insure the furtherance of the salary cap and the league's competitive balance.

After a seemingly endless parade of deadline extensions, the NFL's owners have voted to approve the union's final proposal, ratifying a six-year extension of the league's CBA.

The league's salary cap will remain in place, and it's expected to raise to approximately $102 million, well above the $94.5 million figure that was set for 2006 if a deal to extend the CBA did not get done.

Free agency will begin at 12:01 a.m. (EST) Saturday, a 24-hour extension over the previously-stated start. The primary reasoning for the delay is to allow teams extra time to re-sign their own players and get their houses in order with the new financial paradigm.

The 49ers will likely take advantage of that period if they are close on deals with some of the remaining free agents on the roster they are targeting to sign. They are set to sign kicker Joe Nedney on Friday, and already have agreed to terms of a deal with the 2005 team co-MVP.

The owners have spent the last two days in Dallas, going back and forth on the NFLPA proposal, as well as the separate but equal issue of revenue sharing. In the end, the vote to approve the proposal was 30-2, with the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals - two lower revenue teams - voting against. A 24-vote majority was required.

At this time, there is no knowledge of what, if any, revenue-sharing issues were addressed in the new CBA.

NFLPA head Gene Upshaw, on a plane to Hawaii for the annual Players' Association meetings when the vote came down, had the following statement released in his name:

"On behalf of the players, the NFLPA staff and the negotiating team, we are pleased that this process has finally concluded with an agreement," Upshaw said in the statement. "This agreement is not about one side winning or losing. Ultimately, it is about what is best for the players, the owners and the fans of the National Football League.

"As caretakers of the game we have acted in the manner the Founders intended. While they could not possibly have predicted the economic growth and revenue streams, they clearly saw the structure. Wellington Mara would be both proud and pleased today."

"I want to personally thank the commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, for his outstanding leadership, vision and integrity. This agreement would not have been possible without him. His team of Roger Goodell and Harold Henderson were also important."

"Additional thanks go to my old boss, Al Davis, for being the first to rise, as he did in 1993, in support of Paul and an agreement. And to Dan Rooney and Jerry Richardson, who just would not give up. Finally, thank you to our players, led by president Troy Vincent and his board of player reps, for their unconditional support and encouragement. They are the real heroes.

"Moving forward, this new agreement gives us the opportunity to continue our unprecedented success and growth."

This agreement will take the NFL through the 2012 season, and will reinforce the incredibly valuable perception that the NFL has the most competitive balance of any major sport – a crucial element of the league's ever-accelerating popularity. Without it, 2007 would have been an uncapped year. Without it, 2008 could have led to antitrust issues, questions about the legality of the draft, the de-certification of the union and an almost sure lockout. Without it, anarchy was a certainty.

Some highlights of Tagliabue's post-vote press conference:

--- The owners met until approximately 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, and then again right up until today's deadline. The vote announcement came about half an hour after the deadline of 8 p.m. EST.

--- Tagliabue spoke to the "tremendous commitment across the spectrum" of all owners.

--- Revenue sharing was always a crucial issue, in order to continue the ability of all teams to compete in a level playing field.

--- The consensus was formed by all 32 teams, but it was the merging of two separate proposals that made the difference – one by Woody Johnson and Jonathan Kraft of the Jets and Patriots, and one by the Rooneys of Pittsburgh and the Baltimore Ravens' head men.

During the lunch break, owners Richardson (Panthers), John Mara (Giants) and Pat Bowlen (Broncos) talked to Tagliabue about merging the two proposals.

That group was joined by the triumvirate of Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and Arthur Blank and Rich McKay of the Atlanta Falcons. When the meeting resumed in the afternoon, that combined resolution brought everything together. It was that proposal which was approved, "without any changes", according to Tagliabue.

--- The revenue-sharing model will require contributions of approximately $500 million over the first four years, and several hundred million over the final two years of the deal, in a tiered system. Tagliabue said that the top-five revenue teams will contribute the most, followed by the sixth through the tenth, then the eleventh through the fifteenth. In total, over $850 million will be contributed by the "haves" to the "have-nots" over the six years.

--- Tagliabue also said that the idea was to assist teams who were spending to the midpoint between the salary cap and the "cash over cap" on a average basis. Tagliabue said that teams should not have to spend more than a certain percentage of their own revenue, and this seemed to be the main point of survival of the entire deal.

--- The commissioner said that the players will receive an "unprecedented" revenue stream.

--- The 2006 salary cap will be $102 million, and the 2007 salary cap will rise to $107 million.

--- The franchise tag rule will not change significantly over the first two times a team tags a player, but Tagliabue said that the new provisions will virtually insure a long-term contract at that point – it's assumed that a third consecutive franchise tag of the same player would prove so cost-prohibitive that a long-term deal would be the only reasonable option.

--- Players drafted in the second through seventh rounds will have maximum contracts of four years in the future. First-round draft picks will still have contracts that are negotiable in years.

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