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Free Agent Frenzy Awaits


"I think there's going to be a lot of movement, I really do," Mara, the Giants president and chief executive officer, said this afternoon. "There are a lot of free agents out there, because you have to remember that last year, which was an uncapped year, free agency was not available to guys who were fourth- and fifth-year players. So there are a lot more free agents out on the market this year. So I think there will be a lot of movement, but these transactions I think are going to happen very quickly. All the teams have to be prepared to make very fast decisions."

Mara was a key member of the owners' negotiating committee throughout the 4½ months of negotiations that concluded with the announcement today that an agreement had been reached with the league's players. Transactions will resume as soon as tomorrow and players can begin returning to their team's facilities. The Giants will open training camp on Friday at the Timex Performance Center, their home base here.

Hours after speaking at the Washington, D.C. news conference at which the agreement was announced, Mara spoke to Mike Francesa on New York radio station WFAN, the team's flagship.

The NFL is about to enter the most frenzied transaction period in its history. Veteran free agents are normally free to sign in March and draft choices and rookie free agents in late April. Now that four or five-month period will be squeezed into a two-week time frame before teams start playing games.

Long, time-consuming drawn-out negotiations will not be in vogue this year.

"There's just not a lot of time to do that," Mara said. "So I think it will speed up the process quite a bit."

Mara said many of the basic rules of free agency will apply for the Giants and all other teams.

"It's the same issue that you face every year, and you just have to make sure that you protect and have signed the guys that you think are your core players going forward," he said. "You have to make smart decisions, allocate your resources in a rational manner. You only have so many dollars that you're allowed to spend under the cap. I don't think it's any different than any other year. You're just going to have to make decisions a little quicker this year.

"I think the marquee players, the guys that are really in demand, are going to be able to sign long-term contracts. I think a lot of those contracts could be shorter term contracts. I think that's certainly a possibility. It's going to be a very hectic period, and you're not going to do what you usually do in free agency and bring guys in and show them around and wine and dine them and all that other stuff."

This will mark the Giants' first training camp in New Jersey in 16 years. Since 1996, the Giants have trained at the University at Albany. But the logistical and time constraints placed on the team as a result of the negotiations caused the Giants to have camp at home.

"The problem was we just didn't know when this deal was going to get signed," Mara said. "And we had to let the University at Albany know by a certain point whether we were committed or not. If we ran past certain dates, there would have been penalties due, and they had to make other plans. So we had to make a decision. It's a shame because we did want to go back up there, and I did explain to them that we would promise to be there in 2012. But there just came a point in time where we had to decide one way or the other.

"So camp will look a little different this year. The players will stay in a local hotel, and we'll be using our own fields. We're still trying figure out how to let the public watch practices. We're probably going to put some temporary stands up and we'll work it out. We'll get through it. It'll be a good training camp, and I know our guys are excited to get going. I know the coach (Tom Coughlin) can finally draw up one calendar as opposed to the million calendars he's drawn up over the last few months with each passing day."

The Giants were the only NFL team that gave its season ticket holders the option of paying up front or giving the Giants the authorization to charge their credit cards when negotiations concluded. Many fans paid their balance, but others chose to wait until hearing Commissioner Roger Goodell say "Football is back."

Mara said the Giants will contact all of their fans who own season tickets.

"We will probably, tomorrow, send out a notice informing them that now that we have the settlement, we'll charge your credit cards," Mara said. "We'll give them some notice now, and I need to talk to our people to figure out exactly what that will be. But we'll probably send something out tomorrow telling them that as of a certain date, we will go ahead and charge for the season tickets."

The Giants will open their preseason schedule on Aug. 13 against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte. They will break camp on Aug. 20 and play their first home preseason game two nights later against the Chicago Bears. Their regular season opener is Sept. 11 at Washington.

The Carolina game and others scheduled that week would have been in jeopardy had an agreement not been reached this week. Which begs the question, did the two sides really need to go down to the wire or could this have been resolved a while ago?

"I don't think either side felt like they were under a lot of pressure back in March," Mara said. "But as we got through the month of July here and we were closing in on training camps opening, I know both sides felt some pressure to get this done. And I'm just thankful what we were able to do without having to cancel any preseason games other than, of course, the Hall of Fame game."

Mara spoke about NFL fans and how he understands that they didn't appreciate or like an offseason in which the only football news concerned negotiations and acrimony between the owners and players. But he insisted the process was necessary to ensure that the NFL will continue to grow and prosper. And he emphasized that players will be the primary beneficiaries of the improvements this deal will deliver.

"We wanted to certainly do something on the overall economics because we have felt for a number of years now that our margins were shrinking considerably," Mara said. "And even though revenues were growing at a pretty good rate, our expenses were growing a lot faster. So we thought that we had to make some changes in that area. We were able to do that. We also wanted to do something to fix the rookie system and the salaries that were getting paid to the top of the first round were getting completely out of hand. The most inefficient money you spend as a franchise is on top of that first round. So we wanted to do something about that and get some of that money into the locker room to proven players as opposed to players that were unproven. We also needed to do something for retired players. We all felt an obligation.

"This is a business and we made a bad deal back in 2006," Mara said of the previous CBA.

"The players themselves admitted that they made a terrific deal back then, and this was an opportunity for us to try to correct that. I'm just thankful that we're able to do it without having to cancel games. I was not all that confident about that once the lockout started. I was really fearful that maybe some games would be lost, particularly the longer this thing dragged on. We really started to make some progress over the last, I would say, five or six weeks, particularly when we started meeting with the players – just owners and players without any lawyers in the room. That's when we really started to make some progress. I think we built up a trust factor there and a mutual respect and we really started moving on some of these issues. I kind of wish we had done that quite a bit earlier, maybe we would have gotten this thing done sooner. But you live and learn. I think it's a good lesson in the future that sometimes you just need to get the principals together and get them talking to one another rather than having a bunch of your lawyers and advisors around where too much time is spent just posturing instead of just talking things out."

But Mara emphasized that much of the negotiations were not about money. The players and their representatives were concerned about work rules, safety issues and long-term health concerns.

"We spent an awful lot of time talking about what I would call non-economic terms – how much time they're on the field and what the offseason program could be and what the medical benefits are and injury protection and issues like that," Mara said. "They were very concerned about that. I had thought, quite frankly, that once we got the core economic issues worked out, which we did quite some time ago, I thought that the rest of the negotiation would move a lot more quickly. But that was not the case. We spent a lot of time talking about what I would refer to as the 'work rules' and the rookie system and injury protection."

The players wanted changes to both training camp and in-season work routines.

"The players' feeling was that they spend too much time in pads," Mara said. "It didn't really affect our team all that much because most NFL teams by the halfway point, they're using the shells, they're not using full shoulder pads and full pads and they're kind of backing off."

Mara said the players very much wanted to eliminate twice-daily training camp practices.  

"They definitely wanted to discontinue that practice," Mara said. "In effect, we've done that.

The second practice now has to be basically not much more than a walkthrough."

The owners had originally sought to implement an 18-game regular season schedule. Under the new agreement, the 16-game slate will remain at least through the 2013 season and any changes must be approved by the players association.

"I think it will be revisited at some point, but you talk about a decision that was a deal breaker for the players," Mara said. "They wanted no part of that. It got to the point where several of the owners continued to push on it, and I even lost my patience with it a little bit. At one time, I said to Jerry Jones, who was probably one of the biggest proponents of it, I said, 'I'll tell you what, if you can go in there and sell them on that 18-game season, I'll wear a Cowboys jersey around Times Square.' So he went in there and gave it his best shot, but I knew what the outcome was going to be."

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