When the end to America's long football national nightmare first appeared in sight last Thursday—after a contentious 4½-month lockout, NFL owners voted 31--0 to ratify a 10-year labor deal with players, who approved it on Monday—owners gave commissioner Roger Goodell and his negotiating team a standing ovation in a ballroom at an Atlanta airport hotel. Goodell, who had famously reduced his $10 million salary to $1 in March, took a second to let the moment sink in. One owner piped up and said the negotiators deserved a fine meal for their efforts. "I'm happy to spring for it," Goodell said drolly, "but not if I'm still making a dollar a year."
No one in the NFL will be eating on the cheap now, especially with players getting a hefty 55% of all network TV money—which could reach $8 billion in 2014. Imagine that: The players' share of the TV revenue that year will likely be more than the total league revenue of $4 billion 15 years earlier. The nation is recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression. This new deal proves that the NFL is immune to it.
But the NFL is headed into a new world of football, and that's not necessarily good news. The collective bargaining agreement curtails the frequency and intensity of workouts (for example, players can be kept on the field for only four hours), prompting one general manager to tell SI last Saturday, "I'm just surprised they didn't pass a rule saying we had to give all the players juice boxes after every practice." Ouch.
What is it they say after a hard labor negotiation—it's a good deal if no one's really happy with it? It may take a while for the old guard to get used to the new NFL. But there's plenty of time. This deal runs through the draft in 2021 ... when the NFL will be 101 years old.