Teams learn of new regulations tied to owner-approved CBA

As the NFL waits for its players to ratify or reject a new collective bargaining agreement that owners have approved, league and team officials moved forward with getting football back to business -- even though they don't know when business will be open.

More than 100 league and team executives, nearly all general managers and salary-cap aficionados met Friday in Atlanta for a four-hour tutorial from the NFL's management council on everything ranging from new salary-cap rules to free agency to the signing of players. Also, rules regarding reduced practice time and fully padded practices were explained.

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Team officials will be on the spot once a new league year begins because of the condensed time frame in which they'll have to sign free agents, make trades, cut players, sign rookies -- and open training camps.

Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said "there will be a lot of sleepless nights."

When those will come is the question.

"The nature of our business is there's always surprises, and you have to be flexible," Hurney said. "I think that applies right now more than any."

One football operations person quipped, "We feel like we're being held hostage" by the fact that there's no jointly ratified CBA.

Said John Elway, the Denver Broncos' executive vice president of football operations: "We were told that the lockout was still in place. We're just waiting."

Players want loose ends settled before they ratify a labor deal and trigger the start of the NFL business year. However, both parties have agreed upon operational rules -- including a rookie wage scale -- so no changes are expected in this realm of negotiated terms between owners and players.

Minimum salaries for first-year players will be $375,000 (about $30,000 more than what some teams expected), and minimum salaries for players with 10-plus years of experience will be $910,000, league and player sources told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora.

Also, team officials were advised that there will be additional forfeiture language in contracts that will allow teams to recoup signing bonuses based on player conduct.

Some team officials had questions as to just how close to slotting the new rookie wage system would be. But after receiving a primer on the rookie pool, two team executives came away believing there will be considerable room for negotiation with draft picks.

According to how the NFL Players Association explained the rookie pool to player representatives in Washington this week, they estimate No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton to end up with $22 million over the first four years of his deal with the Panthers, with a $14.3 million option for the fifth year. First-round picks will be signed to four-year deals with an option for the fifth year that would equal the average of the top five salaries at a given position.

The NFLPA's figures obviously are an estimate based on how the Panthers will allocate their rookie pool and what the average of the top-five quarterback salaries will be in Newton's fifth year, when the team option exists.

So the NFLPA's total projection for Newton is $36.3 million over five years. To compare, St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, last year's top pick, could receive a max of $78 million over six years, with $50 million guaranteed.

According to those who were present at the management council meeting, new regulations on offseason and regular-season practices were outlined Friday, La Canfora reported.

Offseason workouts will be limited to nine weeks, with two weeks of strength and conditioning, three weeks of instruction with no offense-versus-defense drills and four weeks of organized team activities -- a maximum of three in the first two weeks and maximum of four in the last two weeks.

In the preseason, veterans can report no earlier than 15 days before their team's first game. A first day is limited to physicals and meetings, and no pads or contact are allowed in the second and third day of camp. As has been outlined elsewhere, there will be only one padded practice per day. Including walkthroughs, players cannot be on the field more than four hours per day.

During the regular season, there can be just 14 padded practices for the entirety of the season, 11 of those sessions must be held in the first 11 weeks, and teams can hold no more than two padded practices per week. One padded practice per week is allowed during the playoffs, and all padded practices are limited to three hours max. Also, a bye week must include at least four consecutive days off, including Saturday.

However, the NFL advised team executives Friday that there are lingering issues with the use of shells in practices, including whether or not that constitutes a "padded practice" or not.

"If shells do count as a padded practice," one executive in attendance said, "then I think our coaches would revolt."

Up to four members of each team were invited to attend the seminar, and each team had multiple representatives in Atlanta. Cincinnati Bengals owner/GM Mike Brown was the only owner in attendance. The New York Jets' Mike Tannenbaum, St. Louis Rams' Billy Devaney, Kansas City Chiefs' Scott Pioli, Detroit Lions' Martin Mayhew, New York Giants' Jerry Reese and Atlanta Falcons' Thomas Dimitroff were among the personnel executives there.

One GM speculated that more than 1,000 transactions will take place in rapid time, as hundreds of undrafted and drafted rookies must be signed and more than 400 unrestricted free agents will broker deals, many with new teams. With training-camp rosters expanded from 80 to 90 players, teams will need to acquire more bodies.

Several GMs and coaches said they're very eager to get players with team medical and training staffs so they can gauge fitness and determine if injured players properly rehabilitated injuries and/or if any of them were hurt or developed any medical conditions during the lockout.

Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian said Thursday that he's anxious to see the medical records of quarterback Peyton Manning, who had neck surgery during the lockout and might not be ready to participate in the early stages of training camp.

"We haven't seen him and we haven't seen the medical records," Polian said. "We need to get that information as quickly as we can. As soon as that can begin, that's a good thing. We'll be looking forward to it. Obviously, as soon as our doctors can get their hands on him, that's a good thing, too. Hopefully, it's sooner rather than later on that."

NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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