NFL Lockout Over: The Top 5 Most Urgent Orders of Business Around the NFL
Now that the NFL Lockout has finally ended, the fans, owners and players can get back to business as usual.
Well, not really.
Business will be anything but the usual for the next few weeks in the NFL, as every team in the league scrambles to right the ship and get things ready for the 2011 season.
Clubs like the New York Giants, who are spending too much as of now, will be doing everything they can to get their payroll within the range of the salary cap (even if it means cutting veterans). Other teams like the Seattle Seahawks will be throwing mounds of cash at free agents to try and lure them and improve their squads.
The teams are behind on their training schedules, and since they haven't been able to trade or sign FA's, everyone from Peyton Manning to Cam Newton to Mr. Irrelevant will be scrambling to learn playbooks at a breakneck pace.
Without further prattle, here are five most important orders of business that teams have already begun to scramble on.
5. Sign Draft Picks
This is an easy one. Each NFL club has several players that were selected in the various rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft, and they need to sign them to contracts.
Getting these guys signed to deals is critical so that the rookies can just focus on their training for the season. The last thing any club wants is a rookie distracted from learning the system by contract negotiations.
This process has been made easier by the advent of the rookie wage scale, as top picks like Cam Newton and Marcell Dareus can only command a relatively finite amount of money from the Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills.
Newton for example, is likely to receive a max rookie deal of $22 million over four years, with a team option for a fifth year at a much higher salary.
Once teams lock up their rookies, they'll be able to focus more on salary cap demands and training camp.
4. Sign Undrafted Free Agents
The undrafted free agents had a more agonizing four months than any of the drafted rookies or veteran players. While veterans had the security of knowing that they would have jobs awaiting them, the undrafted rookies had no assurances that they would even land spots on NFL rosters after the work stoppage.
Undrafted free agents are a huge part of any offseason; now and again one of them rises up to become a breakout surprise for a team. Guys like LeGarrette Blount and Danny Woodhead have to fight for their chance to shine; but first they need teams.
The clubs need them just as badly. Having not found a linebacker to their liking in free agency or in the draft, the New York Giants signed Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich to a contract, needing a body to create competition for a linebacker spot (and Herzlich might even take it).
Teams use undrafted free agents for all sorts of reasons, and with the work stoppage finally over, teams are like little kids in a candy shop with all the unheralded talent just waiting in the wings.
3. Make Trades and Sign Free Agents
The free agent bonanza began in earnest on Wednesday, as teams started to negotiate deals with their most coveted players, with many of them reaching deals in a matter of hours.
As the week progresses, this will continue to be made a priority. Just because some of the top FA's like Santonio Holmes, DeAngelo Williams and Sidney Rice are off the board, doesn't mean the field isn't rife with available talent.
There are teams who plan their entire offseason around free agency; something they are supposed to be able to lock up prior to the draft. Many teams, like the Houston Texans for example, are just a signing or two away from contention.
Trades are also very important. With Tuesday being the first day for trades to take place, teams that have had trade ideas simmering on the back burner for months are springing into action. The Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings have already reached an agreement for quarterback Donovan McNabb, the Philadelphia Eagles have finally shipped Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals and Albert Haynesworth is headed to New England.
Don't be surprised if nearly a dozen trades take place by Monday.
2. Meet the Salary Cap Requirements
As of now, teams have until Sunday to be between the minimum floor of $107.1 million and the hard cap of $120 million. Some teams, like the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, are well over the cap and have to scramble to get under.
Conversely, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cincinnati Bengals have to spend $40-50 million in the next three days just to reach the minimum required payroll.
It's a jungle out there, and the consequences for a team that doesn't meet the cap requirement will not be pleasant. Teams will be scrambling to sign, cut and restructure contracts for the next several days. The GM's and player agents have their work cut out for them.
1. Get on Track with Training
This is going to be a huge deal for the next month or so in the NFL. We are just a little behind schedule for training camps, but teams have usually had at least two or three months of OTA's and minicamps by now.
This has players who have had nothing to do for four months, coming to camp raw and not conditioned the way they are used to. Yes, there were player organized workouts, but that is a paltry excuse for having access to team facilities, trainers and game tape.
It will be even harder on the rookies and any player on a team with new coordinators. A guy like Peyton Manning should be fine, but do you really expect Kevin Kolb to learn the Arizona Cardinals playbook AND get in shape at lightning speed? Of course they CAN, but it is going to be strenuous.
Then you have a guy like Tim Tebow who is expected to make the jump to starter, and he has a whole mess of things to learn: playbook, throwing mechanics, his receivers, etc. This situation could get ugly very fast.
These are professionals, so of course it will work out in the end, but the clubs need these next few weeks of training to be intense and to go off with out a hitch. People like DeSean Jackson and Chris Johnson really aren't helping either.
This has to be the No. 1 priority around the league: get the players to camp and get their butts in gear. The next month is going to be an arms race, and any team that has a screwed up camp might just have a screwed up season.