NFL players return to work, ready for football

By Dennis Waszak Jr.

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, July 26 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

A Tennessee Titans player drives through the unlocked gate of the team's facility on Tuesday, July 26, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. Players started returning to the facility Tuesday morning, and they are expected to be on the field for training camp Saturday.

Mark Humphrey, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

A big green and white sign greeted Mark Sanchez as he drove up to the New York Jets' training facility for the first time in months.

And, boy, was it a pleasant sight.

"Welcome Back!" it blared in block letters, followed by "Here Come The Jets."

"It was wonderful," Sanchez said with a big smile Tuesday. "Now we're back and we can start playing, so it's good."

The gates were up, facilities were open all around the league and NFL players finally went to work.

Now, they need to get ready for the season in a hurry.

"It's good to be back, get everything over with and just come back and feel welcome again," said Brett Swain of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. "Get back in the roll of things and get camp started."

After a lockout that lasted 4½ months ended Monday with an agreement between the NFL and its players, teams' facilities were buzzing with activity Tuesday.

During the lockout, the Tennessee Titans had a chain around their closed front gate to keep players out. That chain was gone and the front gate wide open as rookie quarterback Jake Locker, the No. 8 pick overall in April, and quarterbacks Rusty Smith and Brett Ratliff were among the first to arrive.

"It is nice to drive by and not have the lock on the gate and actually get a friendly smile when you come in here," left tackle Michael Roos said.

Players all around the league were allowed back in to meet with coaches, work out, take physicals and receive playbooks — among other things.

"I came for the free lunch," quipped Washington Redskins receiver Anthony Armstrong.

Teams were already starting a feeding frenzy on their drafted players and undrafted free agents, and were allowed to start negotiating with free agents in what will likely be a flurry of activity the league has never seen. Players such as Nnamdi Asomugha and Santonio Holmes will soon find out where they're going — or staying — as free agency began.

"With this whole free agency opening up, it's going to be crazy," Redskins quarterback John Beck said at the team's facility in Ashburn, Va. "Our team's going to look different."

Washington has several free agents to address this summer, including Santana Moss, Rex Grossman, Carlos Rogers and Rocky McIntosh. Oh, and there's also the murky statuses of Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth to deal with.

The Jets and general manager Mike Tannenbaum have 16 players who are unrestricted free agents, including Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Antonio Cromartie and Brad Smith.

"It would be interesting just to get a camera in (Tannenbaum's office) and see how crazy it could be," center Nick Mangold said.

Teams were also greeting players by saying goodbye, at least for now.

The New York Giants have told center and player representative Shaun O'Hara and guard Rich Seubert that they will be released. A source close to each veteran told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the team told the players they would be cut on Thursday in what are salary-cap moves.

At Cowboys' camp in Irving, Texas, Dallas was set to release several high-priced players, including running back Marion Barber, receiver Roy Williams, right guard Leonard Davis and kicker Kris Brown — according to multiple people familiar with the decisions who told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team had not made any announcements.

The Baltimore Ravens told running back Willis McGahee, former Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, wide receiver Derrick Mason and nose guard Kelly Gregg they will but cut.

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