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Post-lockout snapshot: Sizing up the NFC 07.25.11 at 12:29 pm ET
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With the work stoppage coming to a close, here’€™s a quick look at how each NFC team is positioned in the post-lockout era, using current roster, salary cap positioning and continuity of front office and coaching staffs as criteria:

Packers: The defending Super Bowl champs are well positioned to defend their title, as they have almost everyone set to return. Not great cap room to make moves, but frankly, they don’€™t need to do much, if anything.

Giants: They had a rough finish to the 2010 season and also will deal with some salary cap questions, but they still have a veteran core and coaching staff in place.

Eagles: Andy Reid and Michael Vick have worked together the last two seasons, they have their defensive nucleus all returning, and they have some cap space ‘€” they could go after Plaxico Burress.

Buccaneers: Tampa has an excellent salary cap situation (approximately $60 million!) and some of the best young talent in the league. Remains to be seen how they can follow up on last year’€™s 10-6 surprise finish, but they should continue to make the NFC South a three-team race.

Saints: They face some real free agent questions, including Reggie Bush, but tandem of Drew Brees and Sean Payton means they will stay a highly competitive playoff team in what could be the NFL’€™s toughest division.

Bears: It’€™s tough to remember, but Chicago made it all the way to the NFC championship game last year despite an occasionally erratic Jay Cutler and a shoddy offensive line. Good cap room, but need to pick up more offensive options (Plaxico?) if they are interested in getting to the next level.

Falcons: They have all the important pieces returning, but Atlanta gave up a ton for rookie receiver Julio Jones, and there are questions as to whether or not they can bounce back from a horrible home playoff defeat.

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Post-lockout snapshot: Sizing up the AFC 07.25.11 at 12:18 pm ET
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With the work stoppage coming to a close, here’€™s a quick look at how each AFC team is positioned in the post-lockout era, using current roster, salary cap positioning and continuity of front office and coaching staffs as criteria.

Patriots: With the NFL’€™s longest active relationship between a coach (Bill Belichick) and starting quarterback (Tom Brady) ‘€” as well as no major free agent losses looming ‘€” there should be few concerns about continuity here. Not great cap space, but there are some good targets for them out there at a relatively reasonable price.

Ravens: Even though their defensive stars are starting to get a little long in the tooth, the coach, assistants, quarterback and the rest of their core players are likely to return from a 12-4 season. What, you’€™re going to bet against a team that has Ed Reed and Ray Lewis?

Steelers: Questions remain about how divisive the comments from James Harrison could ultimately be to that locker room, but historically, Pittsburgh has always been one of the steadiest franchises in the league, and there’€™s no reason to think that wouldn’€™t be the case going forward. Bad cap situation ($10 million over, according to ESPN), so the Steelers might not be all that active in free agency.

Colts: Questions about Peyton Manning abound ‘€” the injured neck, the contract ‘€” but as long as they get the quarterback locked down, they appear to be in excellent shape.

Jets: New York has a lot of questions when it comes to free agency (Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie) and have cap concerns. As long as nothing too crazy happens, the rest of the core is still intact, which means the Jets should again challenge in the AFC.

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Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain underwent Friday surgery for abdominal tear 07.24.11 at 4:27 pm ET
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Patriots outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain underwent surgery for an abdominal tear on Friday, according to a league source. It was an injury he had been dogged by last season, but it flared up during recent offseason workouts.

Banta-Cain, 30, is entering his ninth season in the NFL, and his seventh with the Patriots. Last season, he played in 15 games and ended up with 50 tackles and five sacks. The news was first reported by Shalise Manza-Young of the Boston Globe.

Read More: Shalise Manza-Young, Tully Banta-Cain,
Kevin Faulk talks about the post-lockout landscape and his rehab 07.24.11 at 10:53 am ET
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With a labor agreement apparently on the horizon, it’€™s time to turn our attention to actual on-field football matters. Patriots veteran running back Kevin Faulk spoke with the Opelousas (La.) Daily World about a wide variety of topics, including what the post-lockout landscape will look like.

‘€œLike everybody else, I’€™m kind of waiting to see what’€™s going to happen,’€ Faulk said. ‘€œI’€™ve heard a lot of different people speculating on the answers to those questions, but it’€™s hard to say. We just have to get back to it and see how it goes.’€

Faulk also discussed what it was like trying to finish off the rehab process on his torn ACL he suffered in Week Two of the 2010 season without the help of the team’€™s medical personnel.

‘€œI’€™m a football player,’€ Faulk said. ‘€œAll I know is hard work. That’€™s the only way I’€™ve ever known how to do things. But those guys (trainers) are professionals. They know what they’€™re doing.

‘€œIf I’€™m feeling soreness, I might figure that’€™s just part of football and keeping fighting through it. Those guys know how to deal with it. Not being able to communicate with those guys definitely made it tougher for me.’€

And he also chimed in on the importance of having those offseason workouts as a team as opposed to what the NFL has gone through with the lockout:

‘€œI think it’€™s very crucial,’€ Faulk said. ‘€œI hear people saying that it’€™s not important, but I think it’€™s very important for a lot of reasons. First of all, you get a feel for the new players on your team. It’€™s more than just going through the mini-camps and the OTAs. You’€™re building a team.

‘€œEven when you’€™re just working out together in the offseason, you’€™re building your team. You’€™re building trust and faith in one another when you see your teammates working hard. It’€™s very important.’€

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Reports: NFLPA could vote on proposal as early as Monday 07.23.11 at 9:11 pm ET
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According to several reports, the NFLPA’s executive committee and all 32 player reps are set to meet early next week in Washington ‘€” perhaps as early as Monday ‘€” and if both the players and owners continue to make progress toward an agreement on Sunday, the players could vote on a proposal that could bring the four-month lockout to an end.

The owners ratified the deal on Thursday afternoon, but the players did not vote Thursday night, with several of them indicating they needed more time to examine the proposal. However, after some rough going late last week, there’s a growing sense of optimism that a deal could be in place by Monday or Tuesday of next week ‘€” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith were reportedly in touch via phone on Saturday while lawyers continued to work through the particulars of the 10-year deal.

If a new deal is signed early in the week, the NFLPA would reportedly recertify as a union some time soon after that, and it’s believed that team facilities would open on Wednesday. In addition, free agency and trading could start the same day, while training camps would open on Friday and the preseason could begin the weekend of Aug. 11-15.

Read More: DeMaurice Smith, lockout, roger goodell,
Latest news on NFL labor situation as of Saturday morning 07.23.11 at 11:58 am ET
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Here’s the latest on the NFL labor situation, as of Saturday morning:

‘€¢The NFL owners are expected to have a conference call sometime Saturday to get an update on the labor situation, according to Michael Lombardi of the NFL Network. The owners have pretty much laid low, at least when it comes to discussing anything on the labor front since verifying the proposal on Thursday night while the players have reportedly been examining the plan.

‘€¢In addition, it’s been reported that all 10 plaintiffs in the Brady vs. NFL lawsuit ‘€” including San Diego wide receiver Vincent Jackson ‘€” have agreed to sign off and drop the litigation, according to Albert Breer of NFL.com. That means the rest of the outstanding issues ‘€” including the recertification of the NFLPA and the players wishes for more of a presence when it comes to disciplinary issues ‘€” can be addressed as the talks continue to go forward.

‘€¢Meanwhile, the players have committed to work through the weekend, examining the proposal that was approved by the owners on Thursday afternoon.

Read More: Albert Breer, lockout, Michael Lombardi, Vincent Jackson
UPDATE: NFLPA dismisses talk of Monday vote, denies e-mail 07.22.11 at 4:45 pm ET
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The NFLPA told the players via e-mail on Friday afternoon that the player reps will meet again on Monday, presumably to vote on the new proposal that was ratified by the owners on Thursday. The e-mail, which was obtained by ESPN, reads as follows:

‘€œGuys, to keep you abreast of the latest developments, we are reviewing the latest proposal for a settlement. Because of the passing of Myra Kraft in Boston, the NFLPA will not be making any public statements in honor of the Kraft family.

‘€œOur recommendation is for everyone to stay put and keep doing what you are doing where you are doing it.  We will meet again Monday to discuss our options and the direction we want to go. If you have any questions, don’€™t hesitate to contact us. Your player reps.’€

In the meantime, NFL facilities figure to remain closed throughout the weekend as the lockout continues.

(UPDATE, 6:52 p.m.: NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told Jason LaCanfora of the NFL Network “there is no timetable” for any conference or vote, and lawyers continue to work out remaining issues. Several reports indicate that no such e-mail was sent by the NFLPA, and there is no conference call set for Monday.)

Read More: lockout, Myra Kraft,
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