"The part that was most impressive to me was when the players and owners began to sit across the table from each other and dialogue," said Jeff Saturday, the Indianapolis Colts center who was heavily involved in the negotiations. "Things began to happen."
The agreement keeps the regular season at 16 games, as opposed to the owner-proposed 18, and ends federal court oversight of the pact. Some issues, including blood testing for human growth hormone, cannot be decided until the players reconstitute their union.
Benefits for retired players will be increased with additional funding of $900 million to $1 billion over the next 10 years. The largest single amount of $620 million will be earmarked for a "Legacy Fund" to increase pensions for pre-1993 retirees.
Also addressed in the agreement are mechanisms to help create stadium solutions in California. The deal allows for owners and players to set aside money to invest in new venues, including proposed stadiums in the Bay Area, San Diego and the L.A. area.
Hall of Fame coach John Madden, now a special consultant to the league, said that at one point he was worried that games would be canceled.
"When I had a real concern is when I'd watch TV and they'd show the pictures of the negotiations, and I didn't know one guy in there," he said. "They were all lawyers with briefcases. I said, 'No, this isn't the way.' We had to get it out of their hands.
"They finally got it out of the courts and back into the hands of the owners and players.… They're the custodians of the game."