The NFL Players Association executive board and 32 team reps have voted unanimously to approve the terms of a deal to the end the 4 1/2-month lockout on Monday.
"Football is back, and that's the great news for everybody," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "I want to thank D [DeMaurice Smith] and all the players for their leadership and for securing the long-term future of the game. Having a 10-year agreement is extraordinarily great for our game, but most importantly [for] our fans. I think this agreement is going to make our game better."
Owners overwhelmingly approved a proposal last week, but some unresolved issues still needed to be figured out to satisfy players. That was apparently done over the weekend.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the National Football League Players Association, said even though they've come this far, there is still a lot of work ahead to get the collective bargaining agreement ironed out.
"It has been a very, very long process. There's a next step for us to reconstitute as a union, there's issues we need to address very quickly on issues of health, safety, benefits, other collectively bargained issues that we have addressed back in March but really haven't addressed thus far," said Smith. "We didn't get everything that either side wanted ... but we did arrive at a deal that we think is fair and balanced."
All players now will take a vote to re-certify the union -- it was dissolved March 11, turning the NFLPA into a trade association -- and then one more vote to approve the final CBA. It all needs to be wrapped up by Aug. 4 to make everything official, something everyone involved believes will happen without a hitch.
The lack of a finalized CBA will not stop teams from moving forward signing free agents and beginning training camp.
With the deal signed, teams will be able to begin signing free agents and talking to unrestricted free agents immediately. On Tuesday, teams will be able to begin signing unrestricted free agents. On Wednesday, teams could begin reporting to training camp on a staggered schedule (10 teams per day -- based on starting camp two weeks prior to first preseason game) with the Houston Texans and New York Jets being the last two teams to report ot camp.
Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, spoke briefly during Monday's joint news conference, and took the opportunity to apologize to fans for the drama of the past few months.
"First of all I'd like, on behalf of both sides, to apologize to the fans that for the last five, six months we've been talking about the business of football and not what goes on on the field and building the teams in each market," said Kraft. "The end result is we've been able to have an agreement that I think is going to allow this sport to flourish over the next decade. And we've done that in a way that's unique among the major sports. Every team in our league, all 32, will be competitive. We've improved player safety and remembered the players that played in the past."
Players representatives were quick to credit Kraft with this deal being done, saying it wouldn't have happened without his leadership and the understanding of his late wife. It was an impressive and emotional statement, considering Kraft's 68-year-old wife Myra died only five days ago after a battle with cancer.
The league's old labor deal expired in March, and the owners locked out the players, the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987.
NBC 5's Matt Barrie and The Associated Press' Howard Fendrich and Barry Wilner contributed to this report