Four months of hand wringing, teeth gnashing and hair pulling is about to end. I kidded my boss I wasn't coming back from my long summer vacation until an NFL labor deal was reached and guess what? By the end of the day today, pro football could have 10 years of peace. The players executive committee will be the first to vote on the collective bargaining agreement approved 31-0 (the Oakland Raiders abstained) by league owners last Thursday. Then all 32 player representatives will weigh in including Aaron Rodgers of the Packers. The 10 named plaintiffs in the players anti-trust lawsuit will have to sign off on the deal and finally, the 1900 players will cast their votes. Approval is expected at every level and now, the most chaotic, compressed off-season will commence. There are reports the padlocks will come down by this evening around the country, teams will be able to sign draft picks and undrafted college free agents by tomorrow. They will also be able to talk to unrestricted veteran free agents Tuesday and sign free agents from other teams by Friday. Training camps will open as soon as Wednesday. Albert Breer of the NFL Network reports 10 teams will open Wednesday, another 10 Thursday, 10 more Friday and the final two on Sunday. I haven't heard when the Packers would get things started.
General Manager Ted Thompson has prepped for this slam bang free agency period. His priortiy list should follow along these lines, sign the 15 to 20 college free agents he targeted immediately after the draft in April. Next, he'll focus on his own free agents he wants back. Because the new CBA reverts to the old, 4 year unrestricted free agent timeframe, players hitting the open market include Cullen Jenkins, James Jones, Mason Crosby, Brandon Jackson, Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz, John Kuhn, Korey Hall, Atari Bigby, Matt Wilhelm and Anthony Smith. Crosby, Colledge and one of the two fullbacks need to be re-signed. Thompson isn't about to offer Jenkins what he'll be able to make on the open market and it's a foregone conclusion he won't be back. Jones will seek no worse than number two receiver money and with Jordy Nelson's emergence and Randall Cobb coming on board from Kentucky, may be expendalbe. The same for injury plagued Spitz and Smith. Jackson has more value to the Packers than most other teams as a situational back. Charlie Peprah's play and Morgan Burnett's return may force Bigby to find employment elsewhere. Money to sign other team's free agents might get freed up by not bringing back Nick Barnett and Mark Tauscher, giving Thompson nearly 9 million dollars to spend on his own free agents, or targeted players from around the league.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy has plottted his camp practice schedule several times over, tearing up one set of plans for another as the negotiations dronned on. Without 2 a days, eliminated under the deal, he'll be revising his practice plans again. But at least he returns a veteran club and retained his staff nearly intact (with some assistants taking on new roles, like Edgar Bennett at receiver and Jerry Fotenot at running back) which will give him a huge advantage over many other clubs like those with new head coaches who will be hard pressed to get their teams ready by opening day.
Finally, I've got to congratulate the Pack's newest Hall of Famers. The induction ceremony took place last Saturday night at Lambeau Field. Marco Rivera and William Henderson were mates on the Super Bowl 31 champs. Both became Pro Bowl players and were stand up guys in the locker room, approachable by the media types like me after wins and losses. The family of Frank Jonet should also be proud. He did so much to keep the Grandstand franchise afloat in the early days handling all kinds of jobs for the team.
Once the camp schedule is out, I'll pass along the details and don't forget, the cheesehead owners also convene at Lambeau Thursday for the annual stockholders meeting and I'll be there.