YESTERDAY, BOB KRAFT, the billionaire owner of the New England Patriots, hugged Jeff Saturday, the millionaire center from his arch-rival Indianapolis Colts, officially marking the beginning of a lasting peace that NFL fans have been waiting four months to see. (And they maybe brought a few tough guys to tears, too.)
Now that the business of football has finally been sorted out, it’s time to get back to … the business of football. Real games begin in a little more than a month, but teams have a lot of work to do simply learning the new rules that they will all be working under for the next 10 years.
Here’s some details you need to know about the new collective bargaining agreement, the next few weeks of preseason, and how the rest of the year will play out.
League business resumes today. Starting at 3pm BST, teams can expand their pre-season roster to 90 players, sign their own free agents and draft picks, as well sign rookies who were undrafted, and make trades of signed players.. They can begin negotiating with other teams’ free agents, but can’t officially sign any contracts until Friday evening.
We spoke to player agent Joel Segal, who has more than 20 free agent deals to negotiate in the next week, not to mention several other clients who might be traded or offered new contacts. But he says he and his team have been anticipating a quick opening to free agency and a “fast and furious” signing period. He says they might even be more prepared for negotiations than they might have been before a typical, longer offseason.
Perhaps the biggest change between the previous agreement and this one, is the treatment of rookies, particularly the top 10 draft picks. Their first contracts are now much more limited than in past years, meaning Cameron Newton will sign for far less money than Sam Bradford did just one year ago.
However, the minimum salaries for all NFL players have been raised (by about $55,000) so rookies as a whole will actually make more money than in years past. It will just be distributed more evenly among all players, instead of concentrating it in the hands of the top few stars.
Camps will open in four stages, starting with the first 10 teams on Wednesday. Each team’s start date is determined by the date of their first preseason game. Players can show up for physicals and conditioning on Tuesday, but no practices before then.
One of the biggest practical changes in the new agreement are limits on the number of practices where players actually hit each other. Players can only be on the field for 4 hours a day during mini-camps and at least one of those hours must be a non-contact walk-through. Teams can only have 14 full-contact, padded practices during the entire regular season and each one cannot last more than 3 hours.
During the next offseason, teams have also agreed to fewer mandatory off-season activities, giving players more time away from football.
The NFLPA has until 4 August to reform (which requires a team-by-team vote of all the players) and then formally ratify the new CBA (through another vote by every union member.) That will makes everything all legal and official, but the NFL will not hold up the start of league business as they complete that process.
Once the union exists again, then all the anti-trust claims will go away and certain other, minor issues can be collectively bargained with the league.
Unlike the 2010 season, the NFL has a salary cap again. If you’re a cap nerd interested in the rather complicated details, you can read up on them here. 4 August is the day the 2011/2012 “league year” officially begins and all teams must be under the cap by then.
The previously announced NFL schedule will remain as is. The first regular-season game is on Thursday 8 September with most teams beginning play on Sunday 11 September.
According the Philly sports blog The 700 Level, the Eagles waited exactly 3 hours and 23 minutes from the time the lockout ended before they began charging season ticket holders for their pre-ordered tickets. Welcome back, fans! (Via Michele Steele.)
The HBO training camp docu-drama has been canceled for this year. Sorry.
The Super Bowl
The Packers and Patriots are both 7/1 favorites to win it all this year. Plan accordingly.
– Dashiell Bennett