It was a long, drawn out process that was more than four months in the making, but the business of football finally moved out of the board room and back onto the field Monday when the players finally signed off on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was approved by NFL owners last Thursday. Buffalo's front office was excited that the 2011 season could commence including team owner Ralph Wilson.
"I am happy that a deal has been agreed upon between the owners and the players," said Wilson in a team statement. "This has been a long, arduous process for everyone. But in the end, we have a deal that is fair to both our players and the teams and, at the same time, protects the integrity of our game heading into the future. And that is extremely important as we move forward."
"We're excited to start preparing on the field for the 2011 season," said Bills CEO Russ Brandon. "We've been working hard as an organization throughout the process, but we're looking forward to training camp at St. John Fisher to get the season underway."
Knowing Bills fans have been waiting and hoping for a complete 2011 season, Wilson expressed his gratitude to the Bills faithful for their loyalty.
"To our fans, I say thank you for your patience and your understanding during these past four months," he said. "So with this great news, it is time for all of us to focus on the season and look ahead to training camp. I'm excited about the direction our team is heading as we enter the upcoming season and I know our players and fans share in that excitement."
With the NFL again open for business players can begin reporting to One Bills Drive for workouts as early as Tuesday at 10 am. Head coach Chan Gailey addressed his plans for the players that are on the roster.
"We're excited about seeing our players and getting on with football," said Gailey. "I think the number one thing we're looking at is the conditioning level and how do we work them into football condition as quickly as possible without being dumb about it."
Presumably player physicals will be the first order of business.
For Bills GM Buddy Nix he and Senior Vice President of Football Administration Jim Overdorf they can begin the process of contacting and negotiating contracts with Buffalo's nine draft choices, undrafted rookie free agents and their own free agents as well as those out on the market on Tuesday.
"We are excited about seeing our players tomorrow," said Nix. "We have a lot to do, but we are in the same boat with everybody else. We are excited about getting back to work."
Nix and his personnel department will be extremely busy for the next couple of weeks as they have some 25 roster holes to fill, not including their unsigned draft choices, with the offseason roster limit now at 90 players. A good portion of those vacancies are likely to be filled with rookie free agents. Veteran free agent signings cannot begin league wide until Friday at 6 pm.
Buffalo is expected to make additions at cornerback, inside linebacker and quarterback as they fill out their roster.
Some of the veteran Bills players were already making their way back into town over the past several days and intend to begin training at the team's facility in short order. Bills player representative George Wilson intends to get back to Buffalo in a day or two after completing his duties in Washington D.C. Monday.
"In speaking with some of our guys I know they're in town already," Wilson told the NFL Network of his Bills teammates. "We're looking forward to this season. I'm very pleased with the additions our team made in the draft on the defensive side of the ball. I'm excited about what pieces they decide to add to our puzzle in free agency."
Training camp will be held in its entirety at St. John Fisher as has been the case for the past 11 summers.
"We will have our full training camp schedule at St. John Fisher College with players reporting this Friday," said Brandon. "Our open practice schedule for our fans will be posted on buffalobills.com as soon as it is finalized. St. John Fisher is a great host and has provided us a wonderful place to prepare."
With new practice guidelines in place under the new terms of the CBA, Gailey and his staff have some adjustments to make with respect to preparation for the season. However, the long offseason layoff provided Gailey and his assistants with the time needed to put together a different approach.
"We will do a combination of meetings, conditioning and practice, all in accordance with league rules," said Gailey. "We will start slowly and work to a bigger workload as time goes on."
"Our entire organizational focus is on preparing to win on the field and get back to the playoffs," Brandon said. "We're excited to get ready for football and we know our fans are as well."