Finally, after over three months with little to do besides watch tape and hope for the lockout to end, decision-makers around the league are getting back to work. And, oh, the work there is to be done.
Suddenly, the business of football is under way again, but instead of the long, orderly offseason schedule general managers are accustomed to, now the NFL calendar is jumbled. The to-do lists are overwhelming.
New rules of operation must be mastered. Training camp details ironed out. Wide swaths of rosters remain vacant, and every hour is of the essence, with clubs trying to cram what could normally be done over weeks into hectic days.
All at once, top free agents are primed to hit the market, at the very time long-anticipated trade talks can finally commence. Restricted free agents must be re-signed. undrafted free agents will be inundated with offers and all of those draft selections that looked so sage back in April ... well, they still must be signed, and fast, with the lockout already taking the biggest toll on the game's youngest and least experienced players.
Amid the chaos, the smartest, boldest, most cohesive organizations will likely be rewarded, with them best positioned to thrive despite such odd circumstances. Those with continuity in their coaching staff, with a system and terminology already embedded can quickly shake off the lockout slumber. Others face a most daunting task.
There are ample spoils to be had with lockout doors now unshuttered. There are so many lingering, intriguing questions that can finally begin to be answered.
Will the Eagles get a first-round pick for quarterback Kevin Kolb? Which team will make Nnamdi Asomugha the highest paid cornerback in the NFL, again? Can Peyton Manning, still sitting on that franchise tag, become the league's first $25 million a year man? Have Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth played their last games in Washington? Would Bengals owner Mike Brown consider, even for a moment, dealing quarterback Carson Palmer now that he actually could do so? Will a surprise team emerge as a major free-agent destination?
The coming days will be filled with transactions of every sort. Where for so long there was latent inactivity, now a wild scramble awaits every front office. The waiting might indeed have been the hardest part, but for NFL executives the real work is only now beginning.
Gentlemen, start your smart phones.
To whet your whistles, hereâs a rundown of NFL.com analysts addressing some of the hottest topics:
BUCKY BROOKS: QB questions and answers for nine teams
GIL BRANDT: Top 20 undrafted free agents
BUCKY BROOKS: The best and worst fits for notable free agents
STEVE WYCHE: Five games that will define abnormal preseason
BUCKY BROOKS: 10 free agents that teams should avoid