NFL labor deal ratified despite objections from Steelers' players
Steelers cornerback William Gay on the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement with the players association: "I want to get back out there. We took off what, four months? You just want to get back out there and play."
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The Steelers became a voice in the wilderness when they made their final statement at the last hour of the NFL labor strife, voting as a team not to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement that the rest of the league's players overwhelmingly approved Thursday.
And now, they say they are ready to move forward.
"In the totality of the deal, I think it's a good deal," said safety Ryan Clark, the team's player representative to the union.
"We're ready to move on," said Art Rooney II, the Steelers president and a member of the NFL executive committee. "It's history at this point, and we're looking forward to the next 10 years."
The Steelers voted against ratification because they did not believe it sufficiently addressed the system of fines on and off the field that the NFL levies.
"I think our guys will adjust," Rooney said. "They'll be ready to go, I don't think there will be any lingering affects from their vote [Thursday]. They made the statement they wanted to make, and that's fine. They're happy to be back playing football."
The 15 veteran free-agent players held back from joining their teammates in practice at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe the past week had to wait just a little bit more. Coach Mike Tomlin moved the start of his practice back 90 minutes to 4:30, but it wasn't until 4:58 that the 15 received the official word to put on their pads and join their teammates.
Veteran nose tackle Chris Hoke, one of the 15 not permitted to practice until the players officially ratified the new CBA, danced his Hokey-Pokey jig inside a big circle of players who clapped as he did so.
And it was on with training camp for all.
"It's just fun to be out here working with the guys," Hoke said. "It's great. It's like we weren't part of the team and now we are."
Kyle Jolly no longer lined up as starting left tackle. Chris Scott did not start at right tackle. Rookie Curtis Brown was scratched as the starting right cornerback.
Chuck Noll Field at Saint Vincent College received a booster shot Thursday when those 15 joined the Steelers practice.
Rarely have so many eagerly anticipated their first training camp practice.
After tackle Willie Colon heard the news Thursday morning that the new NFL calendar year likely would start and he could practice, "I kissed my helmet ... for the first time."
Defensive back Crezdon Butler asked Colon if he had just kissed his helmet.
"Yeah, man," Colon responded, holding the helmet that still had scuff marks on it from the previous time Colon played, in the 2009 season. "I missed it."
Colon, who missed the 2010 season with an achilles injury, returned to his old spot as the starting right tackle after signing a five-year deal. Jonathan Scott returned as the starting left tackle, where he has played since Max Starks was placed on injured reserve in November. Ike Taylor, armed with a new four-year contract, lined up at right cornerback.
The Steelers started looking more like the Steelers.
"It's been difficult just watching, so I'm glad to be back on that field with the boys," Taylor said.
The 15 Steelers with new contract agreements includes one signed who was not with them last season, tight end John Gilmore. The rest with new contracts from the team include Colon, Scott, Taylor, Hoke, William Gay, Mewelde Moore, Dennis Dixon, Tony Hills, Doug Legursky, Ryan Mundy, Shaun Suisham, Daniel Sepulveda, Jeremy Kapinos and Greg Warren.
"Now we can have all our guys back out there," Hines Ward said.
Clark called the deal a "fair" one after he had raised doubts a day earlier that it would be approved because of the power commissioner Roger Goodell kept in the discipline of players.
"Did we get everything we wanted? No," Clark said. "Did they get everything they wanted? No. That's what negotiations are about, that's what compromise is about. Are there going to be unsatisfied people on both sides? Of course. If everybody was happy, if it was genuinely a good deal for one side, then it wouldn't be fair for both sides. I will just be excited to have Ike Taylor, Willie Colon and William Gay on the field."
And that they had. Most everyone felt that a week of practices would be enough for players who could not practice until Thursday to be able to play in the Steelers' first preseason game a week from today against the Redskins in Washington.
"I hope so," Gay said. "I want to get back out there. We took off what, four months? You just want to get back out there and play."
Many Steelers believe the lockout actually will help their team competitively because they have such a veteran ballclub with a veteran quarterback, a veteran coaching staff and offensive and defensive systems that have been in place for years. There aren't many lineup holes at the moment, either.
"We know the ropes and the offense and things like that," Ward said.
First Published August 5, 2011 12:00 am