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Players eager but cautious

Ryan Kalil of the Carolina Panthers says he wants to start training camp, but not before carefully considering any proposed deal.

July 24, 2011|SAM FARMER

Scanning the long-range forecast for Spartanburg, S.C., Ryan Kalil sits in the comfort of Manhattan Beach and can't help but cringe -- the wilting heat, the steam-room humidity, the relentless thunderstorms.

Carolina Panthers training camp is the last place he wants to be this summer.

And the only place.

Kalil isn't just the team's starting center, but he's also the anchor of its offensive line, the club's franchise player coming off his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance.

He's in limbo now -- just like every NFL player -- unsure of when the bitter labor fight will actually end, allowing him to un-click the pause button on his career.

"Cooler heads will prevail," said Kalil, a former USC standout. "There's a sense of urgency for us to get back to the game of football. We don't want to miss any games. I don't want to miss any games."

But he's quick to add that players aren't going to rush to approve a deal that they're still wrapping their heads around. If they're going to ink their names to a collective bargaining agreement that runs through the 2020 season, they sure as Spartanburg better have 20/20 vision heading into it.

"Look, these NFL owners are unbelievable businessmen," he said. "It's not that we think they're shysty or are trying to pull a fast one on us; it's that we have to go through the process to protect us. Because these guys are phenomenal businessmen. And we're not. And we know that."

Three full days of digesting the agreement that owners approved Thursday might just be enough for the players. An ESPN report Saturday, citing an unidentified source, said the league and players have tentatively agreed that the executive board of the NFL Players Assn. will vote Monday on the proposal. That would allow players to begin arriving at training camps Wednesday to vote on whether to re-form as a union, a necessary step to forging a final accord.

Passions have been inflamed over the past several days, especially among the players, who have been largely mistrustful of league owners and executives, certainly during the past year and in some cases dating to when the owners opted out of the last CBA in 2008.

After several quiet weeks of mostly calm negotiations, tempers flared Thursday night after owners approved the latest deal, putting the players on the clock to accept that offer as soon as possible but no later than Tuesday.

The players resisted, of course, branding it an obvious power play to force their hand and ratchet up the public pressure on them to do the deal. Most hadn't even seen the terms of the agreement -- although NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith spent weeks working on it together -- and they weren't about to trust that it had their best interests at heart.

One reason the league didn't present the deal to the players before voting on it was the concern that there was no way to keep the terms out of the media if 1,900 players got an advance look at them. Then the sides would again be negotiating in the media, possibly sidetracking the process.

Regardless, for the players, many of whom are deeply concerned about the owners affording them respect through these negotiations, seeing the basic deal terms for the first time on NFL Network felt like a slap in the face.

A few days later, it seems the sting has gone out of that slap, and from the perspective of Kalil and others, the players will soon be ready to make a clear-headed choice.

"I think we're still close, and I definitely believe 100% that the people we elected to represent us are working as hard and as quickly as they can to get a deal done so that we can get back to football," Kalil said. "We don't want to miss games either.

"I think we're playing football this year. I can't see us missing games. The thing I don't know is the time frame or whether we'll miss some preseason games. But I've got to believe we get to the regular season, and I've got to believe we'll play all 16 games."

For now, Spartanburg awaits.

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