One of the oddest kinks in the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement was a provision which said that until the full agreement was ratified, players signed to new teams in free agency, or players who signed new contracts with old teams, could not practice. The rule has to do with benefits and injury clauses, but coaches and players haven't been patient with legalities and reasons — they've just wanted to play. According to reports by Mike Freeman of CBS.com and Andrew Brandt of the National Football Post, the new CBA will be ratified in time for the 2011 league year to begin on schedule, and for those newly-signed players to finally practice.
Before any of that could happen, the NFLPA had to re-certify as a union, having solved most of the CBA's main points as a trade organization to protect itself from antitrust limitations. Among those remaining items that had to be negotiated under those circumstances were HGH testing, the new drug policy, and the disciplinary process. Nearly every report on negotiations, and information acquired by Shutdown Corner, indicated that the appeals process for player fines and suspensions was the primary sticking point. The players and the players' union found the old system unacceptable, because they had to recourse is they disagreed with the frequently inconsistent and capricious decisions made by Goodell and the NFL's disciplinary powers.
Going forward, the NFL will use independently hired appeals officers — most likely people skilled in arbitration — to hear appeals and arguments. This isn't just a great thing for the players; it's also important for the league. It's especially important for Goodell, who's doing a lot of damage control in some quarters after his image took a beating during the lockout.
Barring any major last-minute complications, the two sides will finally sign off on all aspects of the CBA, and those players with a desperate need to get the hang of things with their new teams will finally get the opportunity to take the field and get at least a bit of the new schemes under their belts.
For teams like the Seattle Seahawks and coaches like Pete Carroll, this delay has been especially detrimental. The Seahawks have been one of the league's most active teams in free agency, signing their new starting quarterback (Tarvaris Jackson), number-one receiver (Sidney Rice), left guard (Robert Gallery), tight end (Zach Miller), and three-tech defensive tackle (Alan Branch). None of those players have been able to take the field for anything but on-field classroom work (and in Gallery's case, teaching his new teammates the schemes of new line coach Tom Cable, who he worked with in Oakland). Once his players can all practice, there wil be just a week before the team takes on the San Diego Chargers -- in San Diego Chargers, which takes another prep day out of the equation -- in Seattle's first preseason game on August 11.
Suffice to say, it's driven Carroll a bit nuts.
"I can't tell you how frustrating this is that the players have come up with a system that's going to hold our players out until Thursday, Carroll said late last week. "Back in the day when I was at Minnesota, (Vikings head coach) Bud Grant had a system where he would bring his team together nine days before the first game of the preseason and everybody thought that was the craziest thing in the world. But Bud had continuity. He had it carry over from one year to the next and he knew how to do that.
"Well, now we're asking our players to come in just six or seven days before the first game and I don't know how we can think that's what's best for them. We're going to figure out a way, we're going to compete at it. I don't know what the rules are, I don't know what the restrictions are, and I don't get that stuff. I just know that these guys know that they need to get ready and the players want to get ready. In our situation of playing San Diego on Thursday (August 11), we're in an unusual set up. I wish that somehow we would take a look at this and visit this and figure it out, that for our best interest of our players' safety and getting them ready, we need to get these guys in camp."
There wasn't enough time to fix that system, but things should be set right in time for Seattle's next practice, which begins Thursday at 1:45 p.m. PT.
And with that, the last vestiges of the lockout will be locked away.