Standing on the Verge

As early as today, the NFL lockout could come to an end. Many guidelines for free agency and training camp have been ironed out. Let's look at what the Bears will be doing the next few weeks.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that if the collective bargaining agreement is ratified today, this is what the upcoming league calendar will look like:

July 21: Educate teams on new CBA rules and allow voluntary training.

July 25: Begin signing period for undrafted rookies and re-signing of free agents.

July 28: League year, open free-agency period begins.

Aug. 2: Rosters set at 90 players.

Aug. 3: Deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets.

Aug. 7: Deadline for teams to match offer sheets.

Aug. 12: Deadline for rookies to sign contracts.

Aug. 16: Restricted free-agency period ends.

Aug. 29: Deadline for players to report.

If ratifying the new CBA takes until Friday or Saturday, then push each date back by a day or two. Either way, we have a good idea of what to expect from the Bears' front office once the starting gun on the 2011 season is fired.

There will be a four-day period between the ratification of the new CBA and the time in which the team can begin re-signing its own players and signing undrafted free agents. Expect Bears brass to spend that time contacting players and agents in order to line up the signings on Tuesday, July 25. The quicker those deals are out of the way, the sooner the front office can shift its focus to the veteran free-agency period, scheduled to begin three days later.

The team will then have six days to fill its roster to the 90-player limit. It would be advantageous for GM Jerry Angelo to set up a cot in his office to sleep in during that week. Even if he did though, it's unlikely the team will be able to finalize that many deals so quickly.

Whether or not the Hall of Fame game is played Aug. 7 is of major concern to the organization. If it is played, the Bears will need to begin training camp on July 25 at the latest, yet could hold off until July 29 if the game is canceled. Either way, it's hard to believe those first days of practice will include a full 90-man roster. It's likely players will continue to filter in over the course of the following weeks as contracts are signed.

T Gabe Carimi
Jerry Lai/US Presswire

According to the above timeline, rookies would not need to be signed until Aug. 12. This creates an interesting situation. The Bears don't necessarily need to hurry in locking down the team's draft picks. Those players aren't going anywhere. Other teams can't bid for their services until after Aug. 12, which is 19 days after they can begin signing undrafted free agents. As far as the timing goes, it makes sense for the Bears to hold off on inking the five draft picks and instead spend the first few weeks working on free agents.

Yet that could cost rookies extremely valuable practice reps. They have already missed out on OTAs and they haven't even received a playbook yet. Of all the people who need to get into camp early, it's the rookies. This is especially so for first-rounder Gabe Carimi, who is expected to start right away at offensive tackle. Mike Tice needs start molding his new weapon as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, due to the way contracts are typically weighted, the later-round picks are almost always signed first. Teams usually wait to sign their first-round selection last. With the Bears potentially opening training camp five days from now, this puts the front office in a serious bind. On top of that, the league must approve each and every signing by all 32 NFL teams, adding an additional hurdle. It's hard to fathom how all of these deals are going to get done in such a small timeframe.

Players don't have to officially report to the their teams until Aug. 29, which for Chicago would be a few days before the team's final preseason game.

While it's outstanding that we're about to have football again, the sloppy play that will inevitably come from trying to rush through the offseason – which, in a normal year, lasts for five months – may have many fans frustrated at the beginning of the season. Though you can expect the on-field performances to progress as the season goes along. Hopefully by midseason, we'll all have forgotten about the lockout.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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