CHICAGO – The NFL is prepared to open its doors Saturday.
Whether the league’s players agree to walk through those doors is another question.
The NFL’s 132-day lockout moved halfway toward a conclusion after the league’s owners voted 31-0 to approve a tentative deal Thursday. Bears chairman George McCaskey was among those who supported the agreement, while the Oakland Raiders were the only team to abstain.
The owners’ announcement was accompanied by the news that the NFL had canceled the Hall of Fame game between the Bears and the St. Louis Rams, which was set for Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio.
“Time is just too short,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said.
It ran shorter as seconds ticked off into the night without a vote from the NFL Players Association. Many players on the Bears and around the league took exception to the owners’ approved deal, which reportedly included items that had not been agreed upon with NFLPA executives.
Regardless, by making the first move, the NFL’s owners placed the burden of ending the lockout squarely in the hands of the players. The cancellation of more preseason games could wipe out millions of dollars from any deal, with the new start to the preseason schedule set for Aug. 11 between the Seattle Seahawks and San Diego Chargers.
“Personally, I think [a] deal will be approved by players,” Bears tight end Greg Olsen wrote on his Twitter page. “But don’t forget owners approved [their] OWN proposal. Haha.”
It’s tough to imagine that anyone at Halas Hall laughed along with Olsen. Until the NFLPA agrees to recertify as a union and approve a proposed deal, the Bears’ preseason is in limbo.
Initially, the Bears were scheduled to report to training camp today and conduct their first practice Saturday at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais. Those plans were ditched once it became apparent that a labor agreement and the start of free agency could not be completed in time.
After the owners’ vote, Goodell said teams could open their facilities Saturday and begin training camp Wednesday pending the NFLPA’s co-sign on the agreement. Teams also could start signing free agents Wednesday to fill out their expanded 90-man rosters for the start of camp pending the players' approval, Goodell said.
Several hours later, a conference call with all 32 player representatives ended without a vote.
Although Bears player representative Robbie Gould stayed away from Twitter after the conference call, several of his teammates made their opinions known. They included Bears safety Chris Harris, who reacted to the league’s claims that the NFLPA had documents of Thursday’s proposed deal well ahead of time.
“It’s a lie my man,” Harris said.
On the other hand, Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie said he was eager to play football.
“I’d like to preemptively cast my vote for yes on any agreement put in front of me … let’s go to work,” Hanie said.
It’s possible that the Bears could go to work next week if the NFLPA ratifies a deal in the next few days. The Bears’ preseason schedule includes games against the Buffalo Bills on Aug. 13, the New York Giants on Aug. 22, the Tennessee Titans on Aug. 27 and the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 1.
Bears CEO Ted Phillips said he understood the decision to cancel the Hall of Fame game.
“Because we have Richard Dent being enshrined, it’s disappointing from that standpoint,” Phillips said in a statement, “but probably the most fair given the circumstances of the offseason that every team starts training camp on the same day.”
Meanwhile, Bears chairman George McCaskey said he supported the proposed deal.
“It was a long day because there was a lot of information to convey,” McCaskey said in a statement. “It’s a very detailed and comprehensive agreement, so there was a lot to go over so that we could make an informed decision on the vote.
“I thought the information was presented very effectively. I thought the questions that people asked were very good and right on target. In the end, there was a resounding vote for what’s good for the game.”
After the owners’ vote, a reporter asked Goodell whether he felt relieved.
“I think maybe the word is exhaustion,” Goodell said.
It’s not over yet.