By Brad Biggs Tribune reporter 9:32 a.m. CDT, July 11, 2011
If the NFL and its players continue to make progress toward a labor deal, a new collective bargaining agreement could be ratified at the next owners meeting July 21 in Atlanta.
According to a detailed report by ESPN, that would start a timeline in which free agency would open July 28, a scenario in which nearly all clubs could open training camp on time.
The report, which includes details like the expansion of rosters from 80 to 90 for at least the beginning of training camp, does leave the Hall of Fame Game between the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio, very much up in the air.
If a deal wasn't completed until July 21, it would make it difficult or nearly impossible for the Bears to report to training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., the next day. The team's first practice is scheduled for July 23, and that could also be pushed back, which would not allow enough time to prepare for the extra preseason game. But the Bears and Rams would have full training camps, and the NFL would play 64 preseason games.
"We have not identified a date by which we have to have an agreement to save the Hall of Fame Game," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the Tribune. "Time is admittedly running short, however."
Per the report, the NFL has drafted a document called "The Transition Rules," which lays out a timeline for the key dates leading to the start of the 2011 season. There would be a separate period for signing undrafted college free agents, and teams would be given a few days to re-sign their own free agents before the gates opened on veteran free agency July 28. That would give the Bears a couple days to address players like center Olin Kreutz, defensive tackle Anthony Adams, linebackers Nick Roach and Brian Iwuh and wide receiver Rashied Davis.
It also means training camp could be going on while teams are trying to put the finishing touches on free agency.
With every team losing the offseason, the NFL might not want to allow the Bears and Rams to play an additional fifth preseason game and have an extra week of training camp. That could be viewed as a competitive advantage as teams face the task of preparing for a season in such a short period of time.