Bears place-kicker and player representative Robbie Gould is cautiously optimistic that the NFL lockout could be nearing an end.
“It’s always good when both sides are talking,” Gould said. “Both sides want to play football.”
If an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement is reached by the first week in July, training camps could start on time after a brief free-agency period that is anxiously awaited by the nearly 500 players who currently do not have a team.
Recent talks between representatives of the NFL players association and a small group of owners in front of a mediator have been more conciliatory in nature, unlike the earlier talks, which were contentious.
But there is still a long way to go and no way of knowing exactly when the lockout will be lifted and the league can get back to business as usual.
“It’s still tough to say,” Gould said. “But I know that both sides are working to get a deal done. Time will tell. It’s kind of a narrow window now, as far as getting it done in time for training camps to start on time, sign free agents and undrafted rookies. There’s is still a lot of work to be done.”
While other teams have had sizable turnouts for players-only workouts, Bears players, for the most part, have been doing their off-season work individually. Gould described the Bears’ “team workouts” at a local high school as “Jay (Cutler) and those (skill-position) guys throwing the football around.”
Because the Bears are scheduled to play in the Hall of Fame game, which kicks off the preseason on Aug. 7, their first training camp practice at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais is July 23, a week earlier than last year.
If a new deal isn’t in place by at least mid-July, training camp could be disrupted because the Bears have to vacate their summer home by Aug. 20 so ONU can begin preparations for fall semester.
“This is a fluid process,” said Bears senior director of corporate communications Scott Hagel. “ONU has been helpful with their flexibility given the situation.”
Even if teams can’t start training camp until Aug. 1, the Bears would still be able to have a normal camp, although the Hall of Fame game would be jeopardized. If the lockout last longer, the Bears could run camp at Halas Hall.
“We have contingency plans that we will work through,” Hagel said. “Some (plans) do continue to involve ONU.”
In the unlikely event that a deal is struck in the next week or so, the Bears might be able to squeeze in a minicamp before training camp begins.
“I’m just telling everyone that the lockout still stands,” Gould said, “and that they should continue with their workouts and be ready as soon as they turn the lights back on.”
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