American football fans’ hopes were raised on Monday as the rollercoaster ride that is the NFL lockout showed some signs of reaching an end.
Though an appeals court ruled last week to keep the NFL lockout in place, ESPN.com reported that a potential agreement between the NFL and its players’ association could be ratified during the July 21 league meetings in Atlanta.
The ESPN report came four months to the day after the previous collective bargaining agreement expired. If a deal could be reached on July 21, teams could open their training camps and almost all preseason games could be preserved. Free agents would be up for grabs by July 28, the start of the league year.
According to the report, one unidentified owner is particularly optimistic.
There’s “no reason to believe it won’t get done,” he told ESPN, suggesting that initial details could be agreed upon within seven to 10 days.
Still, others are not convinced.
“Players feel they have made significant concessions and overtures that have not been reciprocated,” a representative of the players’ negotiating team told ESPN. “We’ve basically reached the limits of compromise.”
The issue of rookie wages, the most complex on the docket, has yet to be resolved, they say.
Several former Cougars affected by the lockout were in town on Monday for a football camp with local youth.
Frustrating though the uncertainty may be, Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta said his only focus was his own preparation.
“There’s not a lot in my control right now when it comes to the lockout,” Pitta said. “All I can do is concentrate my energy into ensuring I’m ready to play once it’s over.”
Former Cougar teammate Max Hall, now a quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals, echoed that sentiment.
“My plan is just to work as hard as I can and be ready to play football,” Hall said. “Whether that’s next week or next month, I can’t really worry about it. … I’m just focusing on working out and trying to stay in shape.”
John Beck, who has played for three NFL teams in his four seasons in the league and now is in competition to become the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins, has been a leader in organizing voluntary workouts with his Redskins teammates during the offseason. While there is a chance for players to learn together during voluntary workouts, Beck said the difference between voluntary workouts and Official Team Activities and mini-camps is undeniable.
“It’s good we got to organize them, but a good comparison would be there we get to make steps, during OTAs and camps you make strides,” he said. “So is there progress being made? Yes. But is it as much that could be done if we were not locked out, no, absolutely not.”
The current status of the labor talk’s progress has Beck believing a deal will get made.
“I’m pretty optimistic from things I’ve heard over the past 10 days, so I think it will get fixed,” he said.
While the lockout situation has involved a lot of wait-and-see for the players, the absence of a definitive solution has not been license for downtime, said Harvey Unga, now a running back for the Chicago Bears.
“There’s been a whole lot of training,” Unga said. “I took a little bit of a break to go to a family wedding and then [it was] back at it again.”
For now, Unga trains in Orem with former Tennessee Titan Dave Stroshine, a conditioning guru known for his ability to increase athletes’ strength and speed.
Enjoying the extended interval in Utah has been a benefit for Rams linebacker Bryan Kehl, but he is just as keen as the others to get back on the field.
“The lockout is unfortunate for a lot of players,” Kehl said. “For me it’s been OK, and I’m anxious and ready to go back to work whenever they get the deal done. … Whenever we get the call I’ll be full steam ahead.”
The waiting game is getting old for strong safety Andrew Rich, who put in an All-MWC first-team performance for BYU in 2010. Not picked up in the 2011 draft, Rich has been left wondering what his future in football looks like, as rookie free agents haven’t been allowed to sign with NFL teams because of the lockout.
“I wish I knew,” Rich said. “I’m here in Provo just working out and training and hoping for the lockout to get over so I can hopefully get a crack at it.”