Some of the club owners who have been blocking labor peace in pro football changed their position this week, and both the owners and the players' association announced a tentative resolution of their differences Tuesday in New York.
"We have a tentative settlement in principle," Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. "We'll attempt to finalize a settlement Monday."
Gene Upshaw, leader of the NFL Players' Assn., said substantially the same thing and so did a later joint statement.
No details or terms were given, but it is believed that the contract will give players a form of unrestricted free agency for the first time, impose a salary cap and shorten the draft from 12 rounds to seven--maybe six.
One management source, however, said there are still some problems to be solved and that the predicted Monday announcement could be delayed.
"They would have announced it today if there had been a settlement," he said.
He added, however, that labor peace seems closer than at any time since 1987, when the most recent collective bargaining agreement--a 1982 document--lapsed.
For the last five years, the most serious objections to a new labor agreement have been raised by a minority of the owners.
The majority has, for years, favored a settlement. But under NFL rules, it takes an affirmative vote by 21 of the 28 owners to affect any labor action.
What changed this week was that the minority group softened its objections and gave the Tagliabue labor committee a mandate to proceed with settlement terms.
Two members of that minority are Al Davis of the Raiders and Jack Kent Cooke of the Washington Redskins.
The terms of the new agreement, when they are announced, will cover the following areas:
--Unrestricted free agency for most players after a prescribed number of years in the league: four or five.
--Exemptions from free agency for, probably, one key player in each franchise. The clubs will be required to pay top dollar to such "franchise" players.
--A salary cap if labor costs exceed a certain revenue percentage, probably 67%.
--Cash settlements for players with outstanding suits against the league, the Raiders' Marcus Allen among them.
--Instant free agency for some of the players who sued.
--A six- or seven-year agreement and a shorter draft, probably seven rounds, beginning next spring.
--Extra draft choices to teams losing free agents.
One source said: "Many of the terms that have been publicly mentioned in recent weeks are still unsatisfactory to many owners."
Thus, representatives of the owners and players have been negotiating at length for two or three weeks--meeting almost daily--and compromising in several areas.
They were still compromising Tuesday.
The owners' negotiators are Tagliabue, Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos.
The lawyers negotiating for the players are Jim Quinn and Jeff Kessler of New York, backed up by Upshaw and Doug Allen of the players' association.
Behind the urgency of the negotiating at this point is the expiration date for NFL contracts, Feb. 1.
Without a new agreement by then, about 600 of the league's 1,500 players are in line to become free agents--or so they are contending in many lawsuits against the club and the league.
The litigation is all before federal judge David Doty of Minneapolis, who has delayed his decision in several cases pending player-owner negotiating.
Last summer, after a Minneapolis jury found the NFL to be again in violation of antitrust laws, Doty freed tight end Keith Jackson and three other players. Three of the four quickly joined new teams.
The owners contend that the same jury that made Jackson a free agent authorized them to develop a new set of restrictions against free agency, replacing their Plan B restrictions, found illegal in Doty's court.
Doty, who must approve this settlement, also had a role in the recent talks, urging the antagonists to reach agreement and telling them that neither side might like any settlement he imposed.
Labor Peace in NFL?
Here are some of the key points believed to be in the new NFL labor agreement, for which a tentative settlement was agreed on Tuesday.
NEW--Free agency after some years in the league--four or five--for all except one "franchise player." He will have to be designated as such when he signs and remain so for the life of the contract. His salary will have to be among the top five at his position when he signs. In 1993, teams also will be allowed to match offers to two additional players, and in 1994 they will able to match one. After that, there will be no matching.
OLD--None since Plan B was thrown out by a jury in Minneapolis in September.
NEW--A so-called "hard cap" that will become effective when 67% of team revenues go for player costs. At that point, the term for free agency will drop, probably from five years to four.
OLD--No cap, with team payrolls ranging from more than $30 million for San Francisco to about $17 million for Pittsburgh and New Orleans.
NEW--Seven rounds, maybe six.
NEW--Limit of $2 million total for draft choices.
OLD--Whatever the market will bear.