With collective bargaining agreement negotiations between NFL owners and players projected to last into next week, the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams are expected to move back the start of their training camps from July 22. As a result, the cancellation of the annual Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, is looking more and more likely.
The preseason encounter between the Bears and Rams is scheduled for Aug. 7, one day after the annual enshrinement ceremony. However, sources from the two teams are getting anxious about playing the game, particularly if they can't start camp on time.
"The decision is probably going to be made for us," a coach from one of the teams said. "You get past a certain point and you can't play that game … the way things are going right now, I don't think we're going to have the time to travel for an extra game, let alone all the other stuff you're talking about."
"All the other stuff" is a vast array of things that teams are going to have to do in a very short amount of time once the league year starts following an offseason with no minicamps or other team-run training activities. To start, teams must sign players, including veteran free agents, draft picks and undrafted rookies. Many general managers were hoping that process would start by Friday, giving St. Louis and Chicago a week and everyone else at least two weeks before the start of camp.
For example, although the Bears list 69 players on the roster posted on the official team website, 19 are either rookies who have yet to sign (such as first-round pick Gabe Carimi(notes)) or free agents (such as center Olin Kreutz(notes)). While Carimi and Kreutz are both expected to sign with the team, formally filling the roster from 50 players to at least 80 – the maximum number of players previously allowed at training camp – takes time. The situation becomes even more complicated when you consider reports that training-camp rosters will be expanded this year to deal with the lack of offseason conditioning.
That's to say nothing of the other issues, such as St. Louis' situation on offense, where new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is taking over for Pat Shurmur. McDaniels has yet to work directly with quarterback Sam Bradford(notes) or any of the offensive players.
With executives now hoping that owners at least vote on an agreement by July 21 in Atlanta, at the latest, the period to sign players could be just a matter of days.
"Realistically, it's just not enough time to do everything for the first day of training camp the way we're going," an executive from one of the two teams said. "We're going to do what we have to do and we all have to live by the same rules, but it's not going to be easy."
For Chicago and St. Louis, living by the same rules may require the cancellation of the Hall of Fame game. League spokesman Greg Aiello said Monday that no decision has been made on the game. Likewise, Hall of Fame spokesman Joe Horrigan said no decision has been made by his organization. However, Horrigan said there is no way to change the date of the enshrinement festivities.
"The Enshrinement Festival events couldn't be changed at this late date as it really is a 10-day, 18-event schedule and tickets have already been sold; out-of-town vendors contracted; and venues booked; etc," Horrigan wrote in an email. "The game, although no one has suggested it, could at least in theory be rescheduled, it just wouldn't be a part of the Enshrinement Festival per se. Again, there would be the issue of ticket sales – refunding or offering the same tickets at a different date, etc. – but at least in theory, I guess in the strictest sense could be possible."
Forcing the Bears and Rams to play that game at a later date would also be problematic.
"That's three days you lose and we're going to be struggling to get everything done already," the coach said.
Former St. Louis Rams RB Marshall Faulk got teary-eyed during the HOF announcement show in February.
This year's induction class features one of the most interesting groups in recent years, including Deion Sanders, Marshall Faulk and Shannon Sharpe. However, the likely cancellation of the game as a result of the labor impasse could cast a pall on the weekend. The Hall of Fame game has been played annually since 1962, with the exception of 1966, when the Hall was unable to secure two teams, according to Horrigan.
"While obviously the game is an important part of the 10-day Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival, the main event is the Enshrinement of the new Class of Enshrinees," Horrigan wrote. "That said, we would however, be disappointed if the game were not played as it too is an important part of the tradition of the Pro Football Enshrinement Festival."