Harbaugh raring to go as lockout finally ends

The NFL Players Association unanimously ratified a new collective bargaining agreement today, paving the way for the 49ers to finally get back to the business of football. The Niners will open training camp Thursday at team headquarters in Santa Clara and have their first practice of the summer Friday, and coach Jim Harbaugh already is chomping at the bit.


"It's unanimous," union spokesman George Atallah announced after the NFLPA vote, making it official that the league and its players now have a new labor deal after a 4½-month lockout, the longest work stoppage in league history.

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stood outside the union offices in Washington, D.C., and announced that the NFLPA executive committee and 32 player reps had unanimously recommended the settlement of the antitrust suit, which will soon lead to a new CBA.

After months of acrimony, a nasty labor dispute is over as the decertified players union and the league have hammered out a 10-year accord. The world's most popular professional sports league is back in business.

"We didn't get everything that either side wanted ... but we did arrive at a deal that we think is fair and balanced," Smith said. "I know it has been a very long process since the day we stood here that night in March. But our guys stood together when nobody thought we would. And football is back because of it."

Added Goodell, "This is a long time coming, and football's back. And that's the great news for everybody."

Signings of undrafted rookies and rookie draft picks can begin Tuesday, veterans can be cut Thursday and teams may negotiate with their own unrestricted free agents beginning Tuesday. Beginning on Aug. 4, the Rule of 51 applies as the new league year officially begins.

That means the top 51 players on the roster in terms of salary must fit beneath the league's 2011 salary cap figure of $120.375 million. The 49ers are currently about $19 million under that figure.

The Niners have announced that 10 of their training camp practices will be open to the public at their Santa Clara facility.

Harbaugh looks more than ready to start today. In a message to fans on the team's web site, an enthusiastic Harbaugh speaks from the 49ers facility with an empty practice field behind him. It won't be empty much longer.

"I can't wait to see all of our 49ers players and coaches out here on this field," Harbaugh says. "There's nothing like the smell of the turf, the crack of the pads, working and building together to forge a championship team. For us to succeed, it's all about the team, the team, the team."

Harbaugh held a news conference later in the day at team headquarters, saying the 49ers will open the doors to their facility at 7 a.m. Tuesday and welcome back all players.

"I'm thankful they got this deal done," Harbaugh said. "Now it's still uncharted waters and there's a myriad of obstacles that are out there right now. The good news is that we can get back to work. I'm happy that football is back on and that we have a timeline and we can plug a plan in and get started.

"I'm excited as heck to get working on it. Yeah, I'm nervous. I'm worried. That's a part of my job to be that way. Me personally, it keeps me on my toes. Anxious, all those feelings, to get started and get going. That's the good news: We can now start. I think we're all just sitting on a spring and we are ready to go."

In another step toward hammering out contracts within the next few days, the NFLPA held a conference call earlier today with all registered agents. The listen-only conference call will go over procedures, player rules, contracts and salary-cap details under the new CBA.

Meanwhile, several industry sources said that teams have been directly contacting undrafted rookie free agents or talking to their agents. Teams are expected to have a $75,000 budget limit for signing undrafted rookies.

Those deals as well as contracts for rookie draft picks are expected to happen extremely quickly in the next day.

When free agency will open and how it will be conducted was still being sorted out, but the NFL Network said the free agent list will be available later this afternoon. With roster limits expanding to 90 players to open training camp, it will create a whirlwind of activity.

During a day when there were more timeline possibilities floated than anyone could digest, following is what will happen over the next 10 days:

--- Tuesday: The doors of team facilities will open and trading can begin.Teams can begin signing their drafted rookies as well as undrafted free agents. Negotiations can also officially start with all other players, including those on other teams.

--- Wednesday: Training camps will begin opening 15 days before the first scheduled preseason games of Aug. 11. The 49ers and nine other NFL teams open camp Thursday. San Francisco begins the exhibition season Aug. 12 at New Orleans.

--- Thursday: Teams may waive or terminate player contracts.

--- Friday: Teams can renegotiate contracts and sign players, but those players may not receive any contract payments and they will be prohibited from physical activity until the CBA is ratified. Signed players, including rookies, can participate in training camp.

Thursday, Aug. 4: The league year begins if the CBA is ratified, and all teams must be under the cap, which would cover the top 51 players. However, the league year can begin earlier if the CBA is ratified sooner. That would entail the recertification of the union, which conceivably can begin as players start reporting to team facilities. It is believed the players will work to expedite the recertification process so newly signed veterans are able to participate in training camp.

Unknown at this point is whether the entire CBA must be ratified. Issues such as drug testing and player discipline can only be negotiated by a union. It's possible the two sides have an agreement in writing on those and other collectively bargained issues, but nothing can be official until the union has recertified.

Other notable facets of the new agreement that fans will notice immediately is that padded practices in training camp can only be once a day. Another practice can be conducted in the same day, but as a walkthrough, believed to be with no helmets. At the start of camp, no padded work is permitted until the fourth day after reporting.

Harbaugh said the 49ers will have helmets-only practices on Friday and Saturday with the team practicing in full pads for the first time on Sunday.

"It's going to be a scorched earth plan of teaching and coaching when this gets started," Harbaugh said. "So the idea of the unknown... There's the unknown with every single guy on your team, with every rookie free agent, drafted guy, that you sign, you just don't know. Now you know why I'm nervous. You know why I've got some angst on a lot of different fronts."

Niners Digest Top Stories