A big green-and-white sign greeted Mark Sanchez as he drove up to the New York Jets’ training facility for the first time in months.
And, boy, was it a pleasant sight.
“Welcome Back!” it blared in block letters, followed by “Here Come The Jets.”
“It was wonderful,” Sanchez said with a big smile Tuesday. “Now we’re back and we can start playing, so it’s good.”
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The gates were up, facilities were open all around the league, and NFL players finally went to work.
Now, they need to get ready for the season in a hurry.
“It’s good to be back, get everything over with and just come back and feel welcome again,” said Brett Swain of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. “Get back in the roll of things and get camp started.”
After a lockout ended Monday, teams’ facilities were buzzing with activity Tuesday.
During the lockout, the Tennessee Titans had a chain around their closed front gate to keep players out. That chain was gone as rookie quarterback Jake Locker, the No. 8 pick overall in April from the University of Washington, was among the first to arrive.
“It is nice to drive by and not have the lock on the gate and actually get a friendly smile when you come in here,” said left tackle Michael Roos, a graduate of Eastern Washington University.
Players all around the league were allowed back in to meet with coaches, work out, take physicals and receive playbooks.
Teams were already starting a feeding frenzy on their drafted players and undrafted free agents, and they were allowed to start negotiating with free agents in what will likely be a flurry of activity the league has never seen. Players such as cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and receiver Santonio Holmes will soon find out where they’re going — or staying — as free agency began.
“With this whole free agency opening up, it’s going to be crazy,” Redskins quarterback John Beck said. “Our team’s going to look different.”
Teams were also greeting players by saying goodbye, at least for now.
The New York Giants told center Shaun O’Hara and guard Rich Seubert that they will be released. A source close to each veteran said the team told the players they would be cut Thursday in what are salary-cap moves.
Dallas was set to release several high-priced players, including running back Marion Barber, receiver Roy Williams and right guard Leonard Davis. Late Thursday, the Cowboys agreed to a deal with their top free agent, starting left tackle Doug Free.
The Baltimore Ravens told running back Willis McGahee, former Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, wide receiver Derrick Mason and nose guard Kelly Gregg they will be cut.
“It’s just the reality of the salary cap,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s the situation we’re in now, and going forward we’ve got to try to make the best team we can.”
Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson agreed a six-year deal with the Panthers.
Around the league, undrafted free agents began signing three-year contracts.
University of Washington safety Nate Williams was picked up by Baltimore, and fellow Husky Cody Habben, an offensive lineman, signed with San Diego.
Washington State punter Reid Forest signed with the Buffalo Bills.
TICKET SALES UP
With the NFL lockout over, fans seems ready to forgive and fill up stadiums.
Ticketmaster said Tuesday that sales on its NFL Ticket Exchange were up 332 percent Monday from the day before. They were up 294 percent from the previous Monday.