Published April 29, 2011
MINNEAPOLIS -- Welcome back, players.
The NFL cleared the way for some basic football operations to begin at 8 a.m. EDT Friday, five days after a federal judge declared the lockout illegal and nearly seven weeks after it began.
And the players immediately took advantage.
About a dozen Carolina Panthers players were spotted entering Bank of America Stadium before 9 a.m, when a voluntary meeting was planned and players were expected to receive their playbooks from new coach Ron Rivera.
One of the first to arrive was quarterback Jimmy Clausen, whose job is in jeopardy after Carolina drafted Auburn's Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick on Thursday night. Fellow QBs Tony Pike and Matt Moore, who is unsigned and recovering from a shoulder injury, also arrived.
"I don't know what's going to happen when I walk in the door," Moore said, "but I'm happy to be here."
Center Ryan Kalil said the lockout has been good in some ways because he's been able to rest more and spend more time with his family. But Kalil was eager to reunite with his teammates.
"I don't think anyone thought it was going to get to this point and it did. It got uncomfortable I think for everybody," Kalil said. "It's nice there's a little light at the end of the tunnel, and we get to come back and get out of that funk. We'll see what happens moving forward."
For the first time all offseason, players have been cleared to talk with coaches, work out at team headquarters and get playbooks. All were turned away from team facilities in the three days after U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson's decision Monday to lift the owner-imposed lockout.
The chain on the Tennessee Titans' main gate was off, and the gate was open Friday morning. Guard Jake Scott, the team's player representative, was among three players who arrived. Scott was turned away on Tuesday and Thursday, when he was met at the locked gate by two armed security guards.
The owners and players have been embroiled in a bitter battle over how the NFL's $9 billion pie is sliced, a fight that has been taken to the courts.
That fight is far from over despite the halting steps back toward football. The league has asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis to restore the lockout as soon as possible, hoping for a friendlier venue than the federal courts in Minnesota.
In a call with New York Jets season-ticket holders, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league will hold a conference call later Friday morning to address player transaction rules. The guidelines for free agency, trades and other roster moves have been uncertain in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement. That expired March 11, the same day the players' union was disbanded to clear the way for a court fight.
The league wants the appellate court to put Nelson's decision on hold so it can argue that it should be overturned altogether. The players were told to respond to the league's motion for a stay by midday Friday, and the NFL's reply to that is due on Monday morning.
Goodell, who was roundly booed by passionate and impatient fans at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday, said he feared the fight could last for a while.
Friday morning, he said gets why fans booed him: "It's the fans' frustration, and I understand that."
At least now, football activities can take place.
Mandatory minicamps and voluntary offseason practices can begin under rules of the old CBA. Team-supervised workouts will count toward bonuses in player contracts, and players also can work out on their own at team facilities if they have health insurance in place.
The league also will arrange for substance abuse and drug programs to start back up, and players can participate in team-sponsored community and charity functions.
Eleven Redskins showed up at the practice facility at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va., including DeAngelo Hall, Kedric Golston, Graham Gano and Lorenzo Alexander, who was turned away from the workout room the previous three days. And players also started trickling in with the Dolphins, Giants and Chiefs.
The Detroit Lions already have scheduled organized team activities for Wednesday, and the Bears have set a rookie camp for next weekend. Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said his team is ready to get to work.
"I consider us one of the organizations that will legitimately do the right thing with all this," Fujita said. "Guys who choose to report right away just have to be flexible and realize that if a stay is granted from the appellate court, then we're locked out again."
The longer the lockout is lifted, the better for a rookie class that enters the league with unprecedented uncertainty surrounding their arrival. Getting as much work in as possible, especially for the four quarterbacks taken in the first 12 picks, is paramount as they make the adjustment from college to the NFL.
"Yeah, it's going to be huge and for me as a rookie quarterback," said Florida State's Christian Ponder after being drafted 12th by the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday. "It's all about putting in my time and getting myself prepared for whatever role I'm going to have this coming season.
"So I know I'm going up there (Friday) and I already asked coach if I was going to have a playbook. And he said yeah, there will be one ready for me and we're going to talk some ball once I get up there so I'm excited about it."