GRAPEVINE, Texas - Done. Finally.
Not everyone is too thrilled about it. Not everyone is on the same page.
But an overwhelming majority of the NFL owners voted to approve the NFL Players Associations' final proposal and a revenue-sharing plan Wednesday so a new six-year Collective Bargaining Agreement could be ratified after a full day of talks at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport Grand Hyatt.
The end result:
- The owners voted 30-2 to accept the union's proposal to devote 59.5 percent of the league revenue toward player salaries.
- There will be a salary cap for at least the next six years, including 2006, which will immediately increase from $94.5 million to $102 million, before jumping to $109 million in 2007.
- And most importantly for the current status of the league, the free-agent signing period is right around the corner, expected to start as early as Thursday night at 11:01 p.m., but possibly Friday night at the same time.
"It was just really important to get something done . . . for everyone involved," said NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. "We had to get this thing in place, and it went down to the last minute, like we all expected, but we're happy it's over."
And at the end of the day, or rather the end of the night, finding a conclusion seemed to be the most important aspect of the deal.
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones admittedly has his concerns over the deal, which will ultimately force him to share more than the current 80 percent of league revenue. While Jones would not, and said he could not quickly quantify that amount into a specific dollar amount, he did say this will force a big change in his Cowboys' day-to-day operations.
"We all had to make some serious sacrifices to get this done," Jones said after the final announcement Wednesday night. "The (players union's) proposal was a mean mother. It really was. It's going to force a lot of us to make some adjustments in how we do things.
"But I think, the most important part from all of this, is the fans. And we had to do what is ultimately right with the league. At the end of the day, what really matters is that we won out. We all did what was right for the fans and for football."
Aside from the players now receiving 59.5 percent of the league revenue and the increase in overall league-revenue sharing, there were some other changes outlined in the new CBA.
"You want page by page, or paragraph by paragraph," an exhausted Tagliabue said when asked to describe some of the new aspects of the deal.
Some of the new wrinkles include a change in the structuring of franchise tags, especially for teams trying to apply the tag to the same player for three consecutive years.
Another change includes a four-year maximum contract for rookies drafted in rounds 2-7. In the past, some teams have signed those players to longer deals to reduce the cap charge. In 2001, the Cowboys signed quarterback Quincy Carter, a second-round pick, to a five-year contract, buying more development time.
Tagliabue also noted a dramatic change in the post-career medical coverage for former players.
But while the entire process was a complicated one from start to finish, some aspects are very clear.
Free agency will start within the next 48 hours.
And for the Cowboys, they are ready to go to work.
"We've been ready to go four different times," joked Stephen Jones, the Cowboys executive vice president. "But we'll just change hats now. Now it's time to get after these free agents. We've got this thing done and we know how much (money to spend). It's time to go to work."
And while the salary cap increase will undoubtedly help many other clubs, possibly even giving some teams the option to re-sign some players they had planned on releasing, it won't change the fact the Cowboys will have plenty of money to work aggressively in free agency.
The Cowboys are expecting to have anywhere from $20-25 million in cap space, and while Stephen Jones said he wasn't sure if the club would start signing players immediately, he did promise to be aggressive.
"Oh, we're going to get in there," he said. "It's hard to say, to know everyone's situation right now. But this is a big cap. It's difficult to tell where teams are going to be under the cap."
In years past, the Cowboys have been known to sit back with a less-aggressive approach at the start of free agency, letting the market dictate price for different free agents.
But that changed last year when the Cowboys signed three high-profile free agents on the first day of free agency, inking cornerback Anthony Henry, defensive tackle Jason Ferguson and guard Marco Rivera.
Stephen Jones said he's not exactly sure just how things will fall this year.
"I think things have changed a little bit," Jones said. "It used to be a process, that the early guys were the high-money guys. But I think right now you'll see deals done all over the board. There will be some $1 million deals done and then some $7 million deals done on the first day. So you've got to be prepared. But I know we are."
Jones also said the Cowboys are evaluating all free-agents, both first-tier players, and even some players "in the middle of the pack."
"I can't say definitively what we're going to do right now," he said in terms of signing high-profile players. "But we've got some good strategies that I think are going to pay off for us."
At least now, the Cowboys will be able to use those strategies, thanks to the new deal in place.