Finally, the NFL is getting back to football.
Five days after a federal judge declared the lockout was illegal and nearly seven weeks after it began, the NFL said players can talk with coaches, work out at team headquarters and look at their playbooks.
The NFL said all of that can begin today, when it is also expected to release detailed guidelines for free agency, trades and other roster moves in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement.
“That’s great news,” said linebacker Joe Mays, one of 10 Denver Broncos players who showed up at the team’s headquarters Thursday. “It’s something we’ve been trying to do, get back to work.”
The promise of football was a welcome step forward on a day members of the Tennessee Titans showed up to find two armed security guards at their locked-up facility, no sign of their new coach. New players in particular will benefit from the new guidelines.
“These rookies, there’s a lot going on for them,” New York Giants center Shaun O’Hara said. “So any info they can get, any things they can study, is good. If the lockout happens again, they’ll have plenty to study from their teams.”
A lockout is certainly what the NFL wants. The league has asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis to restore the lockout as soon as possible. The court is considered a friendlier venue for businesses than the federal courts in Minnesota.
The NFL wants an immediate stay of U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s decision Monday to lift the 45-day lockout 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 today, and the NFL’s reply to that is due Monday morning.
Michael Gans, the appeals court clerk, said a three-judge panel for the appeal had not been set.
At least now, four days after Nelson lifted the lockout, there are guidelines to follow.
Mandatory minicamps and voluntary offseason practices can begin under rules of the collective bargaining agreement that expired March 11.
Team-supervised workouts will count toward bonuses in player contracts, and players can also work out on their own at team facilities if they have health insurance in place.
The Detroit Lions already have scheduled organized team activities for Wednesday.
The league also will arrange for substance abuse and steroid programs to resume, and players can participate in team-sponsored community and charity functions.
Agent Angelo Wright said he has told players under contract not to worry about visiting headquarters this weekend out of fairness to the teams so they can focus on the draft. He said they should plan to show up Monday, and said he’d start calling team executives about unsigned players as soon as Sunday night.
Agent Drew Rosenhaus said he’d like for signings and trades to take place during the draft, which runs through Saturday. But, he added, “I’ve been calling teams, and I’ve been told they’ve been advised by the NFL to hold off on signings or trades until further notice.”
Attorneys for the players said the decision to lift the lockout “is in full, immediate force.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was booed by fans when he opened the NFL draft and again when he announced Cam Newton as the first overall pick by Carolina.
Goodell welcomed the fans packing Radio City Music Hall and said, “Let’s get back to some football. The 2011 NFL draft is officially open.”
Fans responded by chanting, “We want football!”
Before the draft, Goodell mingled with some fans in the lobby, chatting and posing for pictures.
Even before he officially got the draft started, he was greeted by boos by many of the fans and the “We want football!” cries.
Goodell smiled and said, “I hear you.”
As the chants grew louder, Goodell said, “I agree. I’m with you.”
The announcement of Newton as the top pick looked like draft business as usual for the commissioner.
However, the boos continued for Goodell with the second pick, when he announced the Denver Broncos had selected Texas A&M’s Von Miller, the lone draft prospect who is a plaintiff in the players’ antitrust lawsuit against the league that has led to the lifting of the lockout by a judge.
NOT ABOUT MONEY
Tiki Barber, the 36-year-old former Giants running back who wants to play again after four years out of the game, insists his attempt to return to the NFL is not about money.
“I need a goal,” Barber said. “I need something to focus on and be excited about.”