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NFL players return to work

By Jon Krawczynski

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 29 2011 7:10 a.m. MDT

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks as former players and NFL draft prospects look on before the first round of the NFL football draft at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday, April 28, 2011, in New York.

Jason DeCrow, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Welcome back, players.

The NFL cleared the way for some of its basic football operations to begin at 8 a.m. EDT Friday, five days after a federal judge declared the lockout illegal and nearly seven weeks after it began.

And the players immediately took advantage.

Five Redskins players showed up before 8 a.m. at the practice facility at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va.

They were Lorenzo Alexander, Graham Gano, Selvish Capers, Rob Jackson and Clint Oldenburg. Alexander appeared the three previous days and was turned away from the workout room.

Early arrivals in Carolina included Dan Connor and Jimmy Clausen, who now faces a daunting fight for playing time after the Panthers drafted Auburn's Cam Newton with the No. 1 overall pick on Thursday night.

For the first time all offseason, players have been cleared to talk with coaches, work out at team headquarters and get playbooks. All were turned away from team facilities in the four days after U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson's decision to lift the owner-imposed lockout.

"Everybody's tired of sitting around, laying around," Denver Broncos linebacker Joe Mays said on Thursday. "We've had enough of that. Now, we're trying to get back to business."

The owners and players have been embroiled in a bitter battle over how the NFL's $9 billion pie is sliced, a fight that has been taken to the courts.

That fight is far from over despite the halting steps back toward football. The league has asked the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis to restore the lockout as soon as possible, hoping for a friendlier venue than the federal courts in Minnesota.

The NFL also was expected to release detailed guidelines for free agency, trades and other roster moves later Friday in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement. That expired March 11, the same day the players' union was disbanded to clear the way for a court fight.

The league wants the appellate court to put Nelson's decision on hold so it can argue that it should be overturned altogether. The players were told to respond to the league's motion for a stay by midday Friday, and the NFL's reply to that is due on Monday morning.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was roundly booed by passionate and impatient fans at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday, said he feared the fight could last for a while. He said he was looking forward to the next round of court-ordered talks on May 16.

"I think that it's important to get back to that," the commissioner said. "That's the type of thing that should happen: real bargaining across the table."

At least now, football activities can take place.

Mandatory minicamps and voluntary offseason practices can begin under rules of the old CBA. Team-supervised workouts will count toward bonuses in player contracts, and players also can work out on their own at team facilities if they have health insurance in place.

The league also will arrange for substance abuse and drug programs to start back up, and players can participate in team-sponsored community and charity functions.

The Detroit Lions already have scheduled organized team activities for Wednesday, and the Bears have set a rookie camp for next weekend. Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said his team is ready to get to work.

"I consider us one of the organizations that will legitimately do the right thing with all this," Fujita said. "Guys who choose to report right away just have to be flexible and realize that if a stay is granted from the appellate court, then we're locked out again."

The longer the lockout is lifted, the better for a rookie class that enters the league with unprecedented uncertainty surrounding their arrival. Getting as much work in as possible, especially for the four quarterbacks taken in the first 12 picks, is paramount as they make the adjustment from college to the NFL.

"Yeah, it's going to be huge and for me as a rookie quarterback," said Florida State's Christian Ponder after being drafted 12th by the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday. "It's all about putting in my time and getting myself prepared for whatever role I'm going to have this coming season.

"So I know I'm going up there (Friday) and I already asked coach if I was going to have a playbook. And he said yeah, there will be one ready for me and we're going to talk some ball once I get up there so I'm excited about it."

AP Football Writers Arnie Stapleton and Barry Wilner and AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell, Mike Cranston, R.B. Fallstrom, Larry Lage, Tom Withers and Joseph White contributed to this report.

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