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.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (left in headband) speaks to the media after practice on Tuesday. (AP-Yonhap News)
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 4 1/2 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, Virginia. “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.
“It’s just the reality of the salary cap,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s the situation we’re in now, and going forward we’ve got to try to make the best team we can.”
In Philadelphia, Michael Vick was one of the first to arrive at Eagles headquarters and said he’s ready to report Wednesday to training camp, even without a new contract.
“Everything happens when it’s supposed to,” he said. “I put that in the hands of God and this organization to make it happen.”
But, he suggested DeSean Jackson could hold out because the two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver is unhappy with his deal. Backup quarterback Kevin Kolb didn’t attend the voluntary workout Tuesday, and is on the trading block.
In Cincinnati, Bengals owner Mike Brown insisted he won’t trade quarterback Carson Palmer, who wants to leave despite having four years left on his contract. Palmer told the team in January that he would retire if he’s not traded, and Brown said the team will move on without its franchise quarterback.
“I honestly like Carson Palmer,” Brown said. “He was a splendid player for us. He’s a good person. I wish him well. And he is retired. That is his choice. ... I’m not expecting him to be back.”
The San Diego Chargers will have their big wide receiver back in camp as Vincent Jackson will sign his non-exclusive franchise tag on Friday as soon as he is allowed to do so, according to agent Neil Schwartz.