After a 132-day journey through the tunnel, we've finally reached the light. It's time for football. All Chicago Bears players will report to Olivet Nazarine University in Bourbonnais, Ill. by this Friday, with the first practice scheduled the following day.
Robbie Gould, the team's kicker and players union representative, feels very good about the deal that was ultimately ratified by both sides. He spoke with the media – along with team Chairman George McCaskey and defensive end Israel Idonije – at Halas Hall.
"The owners wouldn't have voted to ratify their proposal last week, if they didn't think it was a fair deal," said Gould. "The players wouldn't have voted yesterday to ratify it as well if we didn't think it was a fair deal. I think it's great for football, for the growth of football, and for the players and owners mutually."
He said both sides had to make numerous concessions but ultimately the players and the owners came out winners. Now the focus can turn back to playing football and building a competitive roster.
"We're going to be ready to play football. We're going to be ready to make a run at the Super Bowl," said Gould.
The club had almost no turnover in the coaching staff this offseason and the roster is loaded with veteran players familiar with the system. As such, the team should be able to hit the ground running.
K Robbie Gould
Rob Grabowski/US Presswire
"I don't think we'll be hurt [by the lockout], mainly because we have our core group of guys back," Idonije said. "When you have the guys who have been through the system, have played in the system, it does a number of things. The system, it brings stability, you know this guys knows his job, knows his assignments."
The players who will be hurt most by the lockout will be the team's draft picks and the 26 undrafted free agents signed yesterday. In a typical season, those players would have already had a number of opportunities to practice under the guidance of their new coaches.
"It's going to be tough," said Gould. "I'm an undrafted free agent myself when I started in the league. OTAs were huge for us. Unfortunately, given the circumstances this year, there is a very minimal amount of free agents who actually make a team. This makes their chances harder."
Yet Idonije believes the Bear's veteran group of players and tenured staff should be able to mitigate those speed bumps and help quicken the transition time.
"The [free agents] who are being added, because everybody else knows what they're doing, the coaches can pay a little more extra attention to bringing those guys up to speed," said Idonije. "Because of that I think we'll be in great shape. Our learning curve and our path to getting back up to full speed is going to be a lot quicker than clubs who are kind of rebuilding."
Gould feels the team's leadership will also play an integral role in preparing the team in such a shortened timeframe.
"At the forefront of all of this, leadership is key," he said. "The Chicago Bears wouldn't re-sign Lovie Smith during a lockout if they didn't feel that he had the leadership to lead us through an opportunity to win a Super Bowl with a shortened offseason. If you look at the guys we have in our locker room, it's a very veteran-oriented group of guys who have been here. Our leadership is great in our locker room."
For his part, McCaskey is glad to leave the labor negotiations in the past so the team can finally focus on football.
"The talks should be about what it takes to get back to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl, instead of all this back-business business," said McCaskey. "That's what we've been working on in the absence of players, being prepared for the resumption of operations and getting back to the Super Bowl and winning it. That's what it's about."
He said the front office – which is currently in the midst of the most-frenzied free-agent period in league history – is well prepared to improve the roster of a team that was eight points away from a Super Bowl berth last year.
"[GM] Jerry Angelo, [director of player personnel] Tim Ruskell, they've been preparing for the resumption of activities for quite some time now," McCaskey said. "It's asking a lot of them but we think they're going to be up to the task."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.