FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — While other teams scramble to make it to their college-based training camps this week, the New England Patriots will stay at home … and get started quickly.
As a result of the new agreement between the players and owners on Monday, the Patriots can begin reporting to Gillette Stadium on Tuesday, if desired, for physicals and strength and conditioning workouts. Training camp will begin officially in Foxborough on Wednesday, and the first practice is set for Thursday.
The workouts on Thursday will be open to the public, though times are still to be announced. The initial practices will likely be scaled back a bit while the players continue to work toward playing shape.
With the agreement allowing rosters to be expanded to 90 players for camp, it’s less likely that key players will see considerable playing time early in the preseason.
Whether guard Logan Mankins will see any preseason action at all remains uncertain. He held out for the first seven games last season in a contract dispute. Then, against his wishes, the team designated him a franchise player for 2011. That binds him to the Patriots for the year, although he can refuse to report.
Starting on Wednesday, teams can sign their own drafted rookies and players who were undrafted. And at 6 p.m. on Friday, they can begin signing veteran free agents.
The Patriots are coming off a disheartening 28-21 loss to the New York Jets at home in the AFC divisional round. Despite a 14-2 season in which they won the AFC East title, scored 518 points, and cruised to the conference’s No. 1 seed, they could not escape Week 2 of the postseason.
New England will open the preseason Aug. 11 against Jacksonville at home, and will open the regular season, on Monday Night Football, Sept. 12 at Miami.
Perhaps the team will benefit from the lack of travel during the early weeks. The Patriots, who normally hold training camp at Gillette Stadium, are not among the many teams who still plan to transport operations to college campuses for as much as three weeks.
As the lockout ended Monday, things were quiet in Foxborough. Television news trucks set up for live shots outside, but there wasn’t much traffic otherwise.
In the Patriots Pro Shop, though, there were sales to be had. Mark Lazaruk, 37, of Stony Creek, about 35 minutes outside Toronto, wasn’t going to pass up the chance to buy some gear.
And he knows all about lockouts and memorabilia. After all, Lazaruk is a former owner of a sports-clothing store that went out of business because of the NHL lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. He said 52 percent of his merchandise was NHL-related, and he couldn’t make enough sales during the stoppage.
“We lost the business. We just never recovered,” he said. “It’s a huge trickle-down effect.”
But it’s likely to be a different story with the NFL.
Jets pay lost wages
NEW YORK — Woody Johnson made good on his promise to his New York Jets employees.
With the NFL lockout over and football back to business, the Jets owner has paid all lost wages to business-side employees who took unpaid furloughs during the lockout and coaches who took pay cuts. Johnson made the announcement at an organization-wide gathering at the team’s headquarters in Florham Park, N.J., on Monday morning.
According to a person familiar with the meeting, Johnson told employees: “When you walk out of this room, the money should already be in your accounts.”
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it was a private meeting.
About 96 business-side employees each had to take one week’s unpaid furlough every month since the lockout began in March, while coaches’ salaries were slashed by 25 percent. At the time, Johnson pledged that they would receive the lost wages if no games were missed because of the lockout.
“At the beginning, we realized that asking people to take 25 percent pay cuts at this time would be a tremendous hardship. It was a shared sacrifice in a period where we had unknown financial conditions,” Johnson said, according to the team’s website. “I don’t think anybody was happy about it. I wasn’t happy that I had to ask people to do this. But now that the agreement is in place, we’re living up to our end of the bargain, and we’re all moving forward.”
Coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum also spoke to the employees, who included business and football support staffs, assistant coaches and front office personnel, about the organization’s goals for this season.
The team also sent an email from Johnson and a 35-second video from Ryan to all Jets season ticket holders, suite holders, fans and corporate partners announcing that the owners and players had come to terms on an agreement.
“It all starts now,” Johnson said in the email. “The players are returning, Mike and Rex have never been more ready, and Jets football is officially back. I hope you’re ready for what I’m confident will be a memorable 2011 season.”
A 40-second recorded voice message from Ryan was left for all Jets season ticket holders, with the brash coach telling fans: “I need you in those seats, and let’s have at it. Let’s make this a super season. Let’s get it on!”
Ryan said he plans to have quarterback Mark Sanchez let the football “fly a little more than we have in the past,” and told fans in the voice mail to “get ready to have an unbelievable season.”
The Jets, who have made it to the AFC championship game the last two years, are scheduled to open the preseason at Houston on Aug. 15. They begin their regular-season schedule in front of a national television audience on Sept. 11 against Dallas.
But first, they have plenty of work to do with their roster. New York has 16 unrestricted free agents to address, including wide receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith, defensive backs Antonio Cromartie, Brodney Pool and Eric Smith, and defensive end Shaun Ellis. They also have one restricted free agent: offensive lineman Robert Turner. The Jets designated linebacker D avid Harris as their franchise player and he signed his tender before the lockout, but could now be looking for a long-term extension.
Tannenbaum will get started Tuesday, when the Jets will be able to negotiate with and sign their six draft picks, including first-rounder Muhammad Wilkerson and third-rounder Kenrick Ellis.
Sanchez has developed a good rapport with both Holmes and Edwards, but it’s uncertain if the Jets will be able to retain both. Holmes, who had 52 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns after being acquired from Pittsburgh, was the go-to guy he established himself to be while with the Steelers. He’ll be the Jets’ top priority in free agency, but will likely get plenty of interest from o ther teams, including Washington.
If New York can’t re-sign Edwards, the Jets could opt to give Plaxico Burress an opportunity to show he’s still the playmaker who caught the winning touchdown pass for the Giants in 2008. Burress has talked about how playing for Ryan and the Jets is an attractive thought, but has also mentioned several other teams.
Ryan has also praised Randy Moss, who could be a fallback option for New York if Edwards and Burress aren’t available.
Cromartie had a solid season with the Jets and filled in admirably when Darrelle Revis was injured for a few weeks. He’s still young at 27 and his incredible athleticism makes him a top cornerback. But, he could be a sought-after player in this free agent class.
Meanwhile, think Ryan isn’t daydreaming about teaming top free agent Nnamdi Asomugha with Revis in his Jets secondary? Asomugha is one of the league’s true shutdown cornerbacks, and he has been paid as such with Oakland the past few years — so it remains to be seen if the Jets will be able to afford a run at him.
Regardless, Ryan — no surprise here — has his sights set high.
“We think it’s going to be our year,” Ryan said in his video message to fans, “and we’ll find out soon enough.”