By Len Pasquarelli
Senior NFL Writer
The Sports Xchange
ATLANTA -- In the lobby and corridors of one of the several airport-area hotels here early on Friday morning, NFL general managers, personnel directors and salary cap managers rifled through some handouts detailing the CBA that was ratified by their bosses the night before, and casually debated the real-world implications on what the rules might mean for them.
A few guys, before entering the cram course on the proposed agreement, invented new and unprintable terms for the zaniness that might ensue over the next week if players approve the labor accord. Others just scratched their heads. A few ducked into a men's room, presumably to gulp down a handful of Excedrin. And several privately decried the agreement and the consequences of what it will probably mean for them.
But if there was one prevalent sentiment, a feeling of relief that permitted the so-called "football guys" to exhale, it was this one: No matter the headaches that figure to be created by what might be the craziest and most compressed period in NFL history, the daunting task ahead is a level of chaos for which officials are prepared.
It was fairly evident that many of the men charged with cobbling together a team were less than mollified by the handiwork of their bosses. Perhaps even unprepared for the realities of some of the parameters and restraints under which they will work. But not unprepared for the start of football.
"Our guys are chomping at the bit," said Cleveland president Mike Holmgren. "No one wanted (the lockout) or enjoyed it. But the one thing that it did do was allow us time to focus on what we were looking for, how we would react when we got back to football, better define the process. So we're ready to go."
The public reluctance of some player reps to ratify the labor agreement as it is currently constituted, and the possibility that a vote will not occur on Friday, as the owners had anticipated, has put a brake on the proposed timeline for the start of league activities. But the expectation remains that, at some point, there will be an accord that allows all parties to resume football. And at that point, the pace will be a breakneck one.
Not to the point, though, it seems, that personnel directors and general managers will be forced to significantly delegate a portion of their responsibilities.
"Most of the work," said Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli, "has been done. We're just all waiting for the green light."
Just in terms of fashioning together a team for training camp -- signing draft picks, adding undrafted free agents who really have been in limbo during the lockout, and recruiting and signing veteran free agents -- there is considerable work to be done. Several personnel men acknowledged on Thursday and Friday that a stretch that has been unusual will be even more so, because teams figure to still be adding some players, particularly veteran free agents, after camps commence.
"Most (franchises) aren't going to have everyone on-board for the start of camp, and that's going to be a factor," noted one AFC general manager. "But everyone has been dealt the same hand, so we'll just have to deal with it."
>From a basic time standpoint, the week following finalization of an agreement might be a blur for contract negotiators and cap managers. A few owners, team presidents and top personnel officials allowed that there might have to be a few more people involved in signing, just because of the sheer numbers involved. The AFC general manager cited above agreed that "we could have to pull in some guys to tighten up the nuts and bolts."
But the sense was that most of the football decisions will be made by the men who typically make them anyway.
Coaches and scouts have analyzed veteran and undrafted free agents now for months, and the biggest seller at pharmacies close to headquarters probably has been Visine, in the industrial size. The additional time could mean that teams will make fewer mistakes on undrafted guys and, theoretically, fewer on the veteran pool as well. As noted by The Sports Xchange earlier this week, particularly in the case of high-profile veteran free agents, there almost certainly won't be the kind of courtship process there has been in past years. But that doesn't necessarily mean that, just because there will be fast deal, there will be bad deals.
Let's face it, even in the past, with time to haggle and define the market, many of the veteran contracts were ones on which teams wished they had a do-over.
This year, some of the time spent wooing players was instead invested in evaluating them. With the draft preceding free agency, some franchises might be more careful in free agency. There haven't been many positives in the lockout - and veteran additions will be forced to assimilate quicker than ever - but clubs may have better pinpointed their needs and the players who might fill them.
"I think a lot of guys had (blueprints) where they kind of said, 'OK, if the lockout ends at this point, here's what we need to do. And if it's over on this date, this is how we react,' " said New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.
Added Holmgren: "We've operated the whole time on contingencies, and I'm sure we're not the only ones."
Still, to the matter of staff delineation, of parceling out evaluation duties, and having more people involved, more sets of eyes: It hasn't seemed to have happened. Teams have not dramatically added talent scouts or even contract negotiators to handle the deluge of deals to be quickly consummated.
Obviously, this year has hardly been business as usual. But most teams appear to be attempting to conduct the usual business with as little change as possible.