With any luck at all, the quietest four months in NFL history will soon give way to the sounds of pads popping, weights clanking and players grunting.
Just call it music to the ears of football fans everywhere.
While there was still no definitive end to the lockout imposed by the owners in early March or ratification of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement as of Tuesday night, there is hope a resolution is in sight and training camps will open shortly.
When the impasse finally ends, front office executives, coaches and other football operations members from all 32 teams will have to be ready to make months of work come together very quickly.
The New Orleans Saints, like every other team in the league, will have a lot of work to do in a short period of time.
That they could have 26 unrestricted free agents if free agency remains the same as it was under the old CBA is just the tip of the iceberg.
In addition to getting most of the core players back from a team that piled up 24 regular-season wins in 2009 and 2010 - a franchise record for a two-year span - General Manager Mickey Loomis and Khai Harley, the team’s director of football administration, will have a long list of things to do.
“First of all, we’re going to have to learn the (CBA) rules and assess where we’re at with respect to the rules,” Loomis said Tuesday. “Then, we have a lot of players to sign.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Saints had just 47 players under contract for 2011.
In addition to the UFAs, players with at least four years of NFL experience, the Saints will likely have three restricted free agents. RFAs are players who have at least three accrued league seasons.
Most prominent among the UFAs are eight possible starters - strong safety Roman Harper, tackle Jermon Bushrod, weakside linebacker Scott Shanle, wide receiver Lance Moore, center Jonathan Goodwin, tight end David Thomas, fullback Heath Evans, and defensive tackle Remi Ayodele.
After trying to re-sign who they want back, the Saints will see what’s available on the free agent market to replace any veterans who may get away.
The Saints also have to deal with running back Reggie Bush’s $11.8 million salary as well as oft-injured cornerback Randall Gay, who is scheduled to earn $3.5 million in base pay this season.
Also, Loomis and Harley will be charged with getting the team’s six draft picks signed and in camp in a timely fashion considering they’ve already missed minicamps, organized team activities and valuable classroom time throughout the spring and summer.
That group is led, of course, by a pair of first-round selections - defensive end Cameron Jordan and running back Mark Ingram.
Then, the Saints will likely try to sign a number of free agents who were not selected in the April draft to round out the training camp roster.
“We’ll have to learn the new (salary cap) rules in a short period of time so that we minimize the mistakes,” Loomis said when asked if it’ll be like cramming for final exams. “But every team in the league will be in the same boat, so you just have to adjust accordingly.”
On the other end of it, coach Sean Payton and his staff will have to develop a training camp practice schedule and get their offense and defenses installed - which is usually done by the time offseason workouts end in mid-June.
The Saints are scheduled to open the preseason on Aug. 12 against the San Francisco 49ers in the Superdome.
“We’re going to be doing the same things that we do in any given year,” Loomis said. “The difference is that we’re going to be doing them in a very compressed period of time.
“Every team is going to face challenges one way or another,” he said. “We’re going to deal with ours in a mindful manner.”
Potential free agents
(under terms of old CBA)
DT Remi Ayodele, RB Ladell Betts, T Jermon Bushrod, DE Jeff Charleston, LB Danny Clark, FB Heath Evans, S Matt Giordano, C Jonathan Goodwin, DL Anthony Hargrove, S Roman Harper, TE Tory Humphrey, RB Julius Jones, LB Kawika Mitchell, LB Marvin Mitchell, WR Lance Moore, S Chris Reis, WR/KR Courtney Roby, S Pierson Prioleau, LB Scott Shanle, S Darren Sharper, T Zach Strief, TE David Thomas, CB Leigh Torrence, DL Jimmy Wilkerson, RB DeShawn Wynn, S Usama Young.
LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, G Carl Nicks, LB Anthony Waters.