Hall of Fame Game canceled as players mull deal
Bears' first exhibition dropped, but they could report to camp as soon as Wednesday
Fans try to get the attention of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler at training camp in Bourbonnais in 2009. (Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune / August 13, 2009)
Otherwise, the 4-month-old lockout will continue as negotiations wage on and time ticks away on the 2011 season.
Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the league has called off the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio, between the Bears and Rams. That means the Bears will play only four exhibition games, beginning Aug. 13 at Soldier Field against the Bills.
The focus is now on the players, who have yet to sign off on a deal that would open doors to NFL facilities and allow teams to begin negotiating contracts Saturday.
According to Sports Business Journal, NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith told players in an email: "Issues that need to be collectively bargained remain open." Goodell and Smith reportedly worked on issues for an hour on the telephone Thursday, but players did not vote on the deal in a teleconference and are viewing the owners' move as a power play.
"Personally, I think (the) deal will be approved by players," Bears tight end Greg Olsen wrote on his Twitter account. "But don't forget owners approved (their) own proposal."
Said Bears President Ted Phillips: "We believe it turned into a very fair agreement for everyone. We're very hopeful that the players will ratify the deal in short order."
Camps need to open by the final days of July for the first week of exhibition games to be played. If those games are canceled, money will come off the table for both sides. The NFL said a deal needs to be in place by Aug. 1 for the Bears-Buccaneers regular-season game to be played Oct. 23 in London, but there's believed to be some wiggle room with that deadline.
A Bears spokesman told the Tribune the team will hold training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, but that's going by the timeline the NFL released after the owners ratified the collective bargaining agreement. A lengthy delay could put that in jeopardy.
The cancellation of the Hall of Fame Game is no surprise. The Bears and Rams were supposed to report to camp Friday. Now they'll be showing up at least five days late, which would have given them at most 10 days to prepare for the game and made player safety a significant issue.
"It's a preseason game,'' linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "It doesn't mean anything. So that's one less chance we have to get people hurt.
"I definitely respect the Hall of Fame and all that stuff, but again, it doesn't mean anything. I'm not mad one bit about it being canceled."
The timeline the NFL created puts the season on a fast track. Teams would be permitted to begin negotiating contracts and sign draft picks Saturday and start signing undrafted college free agents Sunday. Free agents could begin signing Wednesday, the day teams could report to camp.
That means the Bears could head to Bourbonnais with as few as 47 veteran players. Rosters would expand to 90 players Wednesday, and the salary cap would be $120.375 million.
It all sounds good, but it means nothing until the players agree to the deal.