The National Football League said players will have full access to team practice facilities starting tomorrow morning, when they’ll be permitted to work out, get medical treatment and meet with coaches.
The decision comes after a federal judge ordered that the league lift its lockout of players and rejected an appeal by owners. While the NFL has asked a federal appeals court to delay enforcement of the ruling, the league said in a statement today that it’s appropriate for clubs to take initial steps in response to the preliminary injunction.
“Football is back,” DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, said in an interview today in New York. “Not only do our fans deserve to have the game they love, it’s important to know that something as inextricably intertwined with American culture is back.”
The announcement came hours before the NFL is set to start its annual draft of college players. The league statement didn’t specifically mention any effect on the draft, which runs through April 30. The NFL said it will distribute procedures to its 32 teams tomorrow on how to deal with player transactions, including trades, signings, tryouts and cuts. Included will be timing for the start of the 2011 league year.
While the sport’s labor dispute continues, NFL players will be permitted to use team training complexes for physical examinations, rehabilitation and medical treatment -- as scheduled by the clubs -- starting at 8 a.m. tomorrow.
‘Back to Football’
“I’m ready to get back to football,” Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis said in an interview today in New York’s Times Square, where he was photographed for the cover of Electronic Arts Inc.’s new Madden NFL video game. “I’ve been out of it for a few months and I’m ready to get back.”
Teams can distribute playbooks and game film, while players are allowed to meet with coaches.
Players also will be able to begin voluntary workout programs and classroom instruction that count toward requirements of any offseason workout bonus in the player’s contract.
New York Jets offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson has a $750,000 bonus in his contract that’s tied to offseason workouts. He was among players unable to work out when he reported to the team complex in Florham Park, New Jersey, two days ago after Judge Susan Richard Nelson in St. Paul, Minnesota, ordered that the lockout be lifted.
The league previously instructed teams to allow players access to training facilities, while restricting football activities.
The NFL, based in New York, instituted the lockout on March 12 after negotiations with players over a collective bargaining agreement collapsed, with the two sides unable to reach a deal on how to divide about $9 billion in annual revenue.
The NFL Players Association said on March 11 that it would no longer act as a union. Also that day, 10 NFL players led by Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees filed a lawsuit alleging that league policies and the lockout violate antitrust law.
Nelson ruled on April 25 as part of the antitrust lawsuit that owners must end the lockout and yesterday refused to delay implementing the decision while the league appeals.
“I do think it’s a sad day when players are suing to play, and owners are suing to stop,” said the NFLPA’s Smith, adding that he doesn’t know what the NFL’s rules regarding transactions will constitute.
NFL training camps usually open in July and August. The season is scheduled to begin Sept. 8.