NFL teams, players get ready to kick off flurry of activity
ATLANTA — As team owners who form the NFL's labor committee were huddled in a conference Wednesday, a fire alarm blared at the airport hotel that is suddenly pro football's nerve center.
If a labor deal that is apparently on the brink of resolution is completed this week, a full NFL schedule can commence as planned. If talks linger, a ripple effect looms that would delay the start of camps and threaten to at least alter the preseason schedule.
Owners are set to vote Thursday on whether to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that includes a new split in revenue that is projected to grow from the $9.3 billion in 2010.
But with ratification votes also needed from the players, the waiting game continues.
"I think both sides are where we can complete a deal," NFL lead counsel Jeff Pash said. "We can close. We should close."
Although players did not vote on whether to accept the deal Wednesday as league officials had hoped, Pash said he still expected owners would vote Thursday — perhaps even before players.
As the USA's most popular sport heads into a stretch run that could define its shape for the next decade, key questions remain:
What's the schedule once the NFL reopens for business?
If players sign off on a labor pact and the deal is ratified by owners Thursday, players would be cleared to report to their team headquarters Friday. A frantic, post-lockout whirlwind would commence, with the bulk of teams scheduled to open training camps the weekend of July 29.
Meanwhile, there's still the matter of signing draft picks, in addition to the hundreds of free agent rookies who have been on hold after not getting drafted.
Will there be any impact on offseason practices and the way training camps are run?
The long-held tradition of two-a-day practices during training camp is expected to be scrapped, in addition to a reduction of contact practices throughout the season.
NFL counsel Jeff Pash says, "I think both sides are where we can complete a deal."
Also, the time that players will be required to participate in offseason minicamps and training sessions will be reduced. In its proposal in March, the league offered to shave five weeks from the offseason program, including cutting OTAs (organized team activities) from 14 days to 10, with helmets prohibited for the first five weeks of workouts and live on-the-field contact outlawed.
There are concerns about whether the lockout — during which players have been banned from team facilities — will lead to increased injuries and physical conditioning issues for players once they return to work. A lack of practice time for rookies and veterans alike also could lead to a sloppier product on the field.
"As far as (offseason) training goes, it would have been nice to work out with my teammates," Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell said. "That's the biggest thing in the offseason, to get that camaraderie and build chemistry with the guys on the team. But I'm willing to give that up for the greater good of the NFLPA and what we're trying to do."
Reminded that the Cardinals have only 41 players under contract and a new defensive coordinator in Ray Horton, Campbell said with a sigh, "It's going to be hard. With a new coach, new terminology and new system, we're going to have to grind."
What about free agency?
Perhaps the deepest crop of unrestricted free agents ever, headlined by Oakland Raiders all-pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, could hit the market by early next week.
Before that, there are plans for teams to have a three-day window to sign their own free agents.
Intriguing trade possibilities also loom, such as the prospect that the Philadelphia Eagles could deal backup quarterback Kevin Kolb. And other notable quarterbacks — such as the Washington Redskins' Donovan McNabb, the Tennessee Titans' Vince Young and perhaps the Seattle Seahawks' Matt Hasselbeck — are expected to be in the hunt for new teams.
What are the chances that a new CBA won't be ratified this week by either side?
A major hurdle in the labor dispute appears to have been cleared. The Associated Press reports there will be a reduction in the players' share from more than 50% to 47% of total league revenue. However a few other issues had not been resolved Wednesday when players representing each of the 32 teams gathered in Washington.
The NFL Players Association's 11-member executive board reviewed portions of the deal Tuesday. But without a complete proposal, there could be no recommendation to the player reps or rank and file — necessary to ultimately approving a CBA — to accept the deal.
Unresolved issues such as a global settlement of legal issues that include the players' lawsuit, Brady et al v. NFL (which sued the NFL for antitrust violations), threaten to hold up the deal.
Logistically, the NFLPA contends that players could conceivably approve a deal — and vote to reconstitute as a union, which is needed to formalize a labor deal — by e-mail or conference call. The entire membership of nearly 2,000 players would have an opportunity to vote on a CBA and union recertification measure, with a majority of respondents needed for passage.
During the NFLPA's history, the rank and file have never rejected a labor deal that was approved by the executive committee and board of player representatives. In this case, though, any delay would seem more likely to come as player reps sort through and debate details of a proposal while pressed for time.
There's still the matter of player reps who have not been involved in the bargaining sessions needing to be comfortable with nuances of a proposal.read more....