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Bigger rosters would help teams get through camp, GMs say

While few specifics of what a new collective bargaining agreement might look like were revealed during this week's NFL owners meeting in the Chicago area, there was discussion of possible one-year rule changes that might be necessary when the lockout ends, according to sources who attended the meeting.

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The league's competition committee has broached the idea of expanding training-camp rosters for 2011, considering all of the offseason training activities and teaching time that has been lost, as well as the months of evaluation that teams normally would have to work with depth players and prospects. The idea has been embraced by numerous general managers I spoke to this week and would receive significant support by their ranks if put to a vote.

There is no timetable for a vote yet and nothing tangible proposed, but expanding camp rosters to 90 or so players makes sense on many levels.

Normally, teams would have expanded offseason rosters filled with players on "futures" contracts, whom coaches can assess throughout offseason workouts and organized team activities before deciding who to bring to camp. Obviously, that entire process has been sacrificed because of the lockout.

"I don't know anyone in my position who wouldn't support it," one general manager told me. "We'd love to be able to bring 90 in (for training camp). And from the players' side, it's more opportunities for them."

There is concern among many coaches and executives about how fit players will be whenever they report, and the suspicion among many is that there will be a rash of injuries. Teams will need to have enough bodies around to sustain the rush. Furthermore, with undrafted free agency now coming deep in the offseason instead of directly after the draft, the time to work with and evaluate those players also will be significantly compromised.

To that end, some GMs would support expanding the practice squad by a spot or two as well, though that topic hasn't been broached by the competition committee.

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GMs remain in the dark about exactly how long they might have to sign players and formulate a roster before having to break for camp. Some are hopeful of maybe having one week of on-site conditioning before going to full training camp. Some have wondered if, when the league year does open, perhaps it will include an initial 24-to 48-hour window to deal with undrafted free agents and to converse with their own free agents before full-blown free agency begins.

The assumption among the many GMs I spoke to is that free agency ultimately will look similar to how it did from 2006 to 2009, with players of four accrued seasons or more hitting the open market. But that has yet to be agreed to, and there are no guarantees as to how the language ultimately will read. Similarly, there is a sentiment that the length of rookie contracts will end up being capped at five years and restricted free-agency rules could be tweaked as well, with maybe the highest tender (first- and third-round compensation) eliminated during the give-and-take of bargaining.

But teams weren't presented with any sort of detailed CBA proposals to explore during the five-hour meeting. The discussion primarily focused on which issues owners felt most strongly about, where there might be some wiggle room, and also a bulk of it apprising teams on where negotiations stand and answering questions and concerns.

"There were no proposals made and no votes taken," one participant said. "No one went there expecting to vote on anything, and we didn't get the sense that we were on the verge of having to vote on anything. There is still a lot of negotiating needed."

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @JasonLaCanfora

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