The National Football League (NFL) and players have agreed to terms Monday to end their four-month-old lockout and ensure America's most popular sport will go ahead as planned next season.
The players must still ratify their decision with a formal vote once the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) reforms, but that is now just a formality after the feuding sides agreed to a multi-billion dollar, 10-year deal.
``The board of player representatives and the executive committee of the players association unanimously recommended the approval of the deal,'' NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith told reporters in Washington.
``Obviously, we have a collective bargaining ratification process that has yet to start. We have a recertification effort ... but our men believe that they should make this decision as players.''
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was also in Washington to sign the agreement, welcomed the news.
``This has been a long time coming and football's back and that's good news for everybody,'' Goodell said.
Local media said teams were expected to open their doors and allow players to resume training this week while the free agency period will also commence.
The league's 32 team owners voted 31-0 last week, with the Oakland Raiders abstaining, in support of a new collective bargaining agreement they hoped would resolve their bitter labor dispute and ensure the 2011 season proceeds.
But the deal was dependent on the support of the players, who spent days reviewing the proposal before signing off.
``(We're) grateful for all the work that both parties did to make sure we came to this,'' Goodell said. ``We can stand here today and say football is back.''
HALL OF FAME GAME CANCELLED
The regular season will begin as scheduled on Sept. 8 when the Green Bay Packers host the New Orleans Saint while the preseason will start Aug. 11. The only game that will be lost will be the annual Hall of Fame Game that was scheduled for Aug. 7 between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams.
The new deal includes proposals for limits on training and offseason programs, rookie wage scales, additional funding for retirees and beefed up salary caps after they found a way to carve up their financial empire.
Although NFL players are among the best paid sportsmen on the planet and each of the 32 clubs was on the latest Forbes Magazine list of the world's 50 richest sporting teams, neither side could reach agreement on a range of issues centered around how they should divide more than $9 billion in annual revenues, a figure that was projected to double by 2016.
The players, led by high-profile quarterback Tom Brady, filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL and its owners, who responded by imposing the lockout.
The matter has been in and out of the courts for months, with judges urging both sides to sort out their differences through mediation, but was teetering towards a critical stage with the preseason due to start next month and the regular season scheduled to kick off.