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Both sides of labor dispute on Saints keep focus despite permanent stay on NFL lockout

Garrett Hartley, Kristin PinkGarrett Hartley, Kristin PinkKENNER – NFL news – good, bad or indifferent, depending on your viewpoint - traveled swiftly Monday down the mighty and oh-so-swollen Mississippi River.

In Minneapolis, court-ordered mediation between league owners and their locked-out players resumed in a federal courthouse. In St. Louis, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals granted NFL owners their request for a permanent stay of a prior ruling that halted their lockout.

And farther downriver, on a drop-dead gorgeous day in the middle of May, a gaggle of New Orleans Saints coaches and players came together for a good cause at the annual Saints Hall of Fame Golf Tournament at Chateau Country Club.  

In one corner, representing the football operations, were GM Mickey Loomis and coaches Sean Payton, Gregg Williams and Joe Vitt, among others. In the other corner, representing the players’ “trade association,’’ were QB Chase Daniel, K Garrett Hartley, CB Leigh Torrence and LS Justin Drescher.  

To say the day was strange and a little awkward for both sides would not be a stretch.  

“I don’t know what I can and cannot say,’’ Hartley said. “Obviously, I’ll tell the (coaches) hello. We’re out here for a non-profit (outing) and just trying to hit a golf ball somewhat straight and enjoy everybody being around us, and enjoy the beautiful day.’’  

Hartley and Daniel attempted to paint a picture of “business as usual’’ for the approximately 40 players who are gathering three to four days a week for workouts led by player/coach Drew Brees at the Westfeldt Practice Field at Tulane.  

Based on Monday’s legal developments in St. Louis, it appears the lockout now will last at least until early June and possibly much longer putting in jeopardy the entire offseason. A June 3rd hearing is scheduled to hear arguments on the legality of the lockout and there is nothing to suggest the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals will rule against the owners when all is said and done.

Loomis and Payton maintained a united front, reiterating that management is ready to hit the ground running the moment the league resumes business.

As of Monday, 115 days remained before the Saints are scheduled to open the NFL season at Lambeau Field against the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.

“We’ve been prepared,’’ Loomis told reporters. “We were prepared to go if the league year would have begun when it was originally scheduled (March 4), and we’ll be prepared when it’s ready to go. So, I don’t see it being a lot different other than we’re just in this holding pattern, at least at the club level.  

“In terms of the (football operations) calendar, that’s up to Sean. We’ve talked about it. I don’t know if it serves a lot of purpose to do a lot of ‘what-iffing’ right now. There’s still time between now and training camp in late July. Obviously, (the lockout) has impacted the (offseason) program that we would ordinarily have. We’ll just adjust accordingly.’’  

Loomis said the team's first priority when given the green light to resume negotiations will be to get their veteran free agents who are critical to their success in the fold.

He did not name names but I will, though the contractual fates of restricted free agents under the current CBA remains unclear. In no particular order, the key players are WR Lance Moore, SS Roman Harper, LT Jermon Bushrod, G Carl Nicks and TE David Thomas, among others.

In addition, Loomis must build his roster both with undrafted rookie free agents and veteran free agents while juggling critical negotiations with the team’s six draft picks (most notably DE Cameron Jordan and RB Mark Ingram) and overpaid running back Reggie Bush.  

My educated guess is that getting quarterback Drew Brees signed to a new longterm, $100 million contract will be placed on the back burner for the time being.

“We still have a list of things that we want to get accomplished and when we’re able to do that we’ll go through that list one at a time,’’ Loomis said. “We don’t have a priority list in the sense that we want this done first. There’s a list of 18 to 25 things that we want to get done and get accomplished and we will do them as quickly and as efficiently as possible.  

“It may be that No. 18 gets done before No. 1.  

“Obviously,'' he said, "there will be a roster limit that we have to deal with and we got to have a certain number of people at each position. The most important thing for us is we got a number of guys who aren’t under contract that we’d like to have back with our team. I would say that those are the things that will be most important … guys that aren’t under contract who we’d like to have back with our team.’’  

Asked if he were losing sleep over the lockout, Payton replied: “I think we typically lose sleep over things that we can’t control as coaches and this is something that we keep ourselves ready and prepared.’’  

“I think we’re pretty good at adjusting schedules when we need to,’’ he said. “So that being said, you just want to make sure you’re putting everything together and you’re ready when the time comes. We’ve got a veteran locker room and we’ve got great leadership. Hopefully, sooner than later, we’ll have a chance ourselves to be working with everyone.’’  

Based on the early “players only’’ workouts, it appears Hartley is in mid-season form. Not as a kicker but as a wide receiver.  

“I was catching balls with Drew and Chase today; I caught all of them,’’ Hartley said proudly. “How often do you get to go out there and catch footballs from the MVP of the Super Bowl (XLIV)? My hands are a little bit sore but you know what, it definitely it was a good time.’’  

These days, good times in the NFL are hard to come by.  

Saints beat writer Brian Allee-Walsh can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

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