A bitter labor dispute was almost forgotten as players flooded into training camps on Saturday to prepare for an NFL season that only a few days ago had appeared in jeopardy.
With a new collective bargaining agreement triggering an explosion of free agent signings and trades, there are plenty of new faces in camps around the league, but none more than with the Philadelphia Eagles, who have the look of Super Bowl contenders following a flash makeover.
The defending champion Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots and Eagles start the campaign as Super Bowl co-favorites at 6-1 odds according to sportsbook.com, with Philadelphia jumping into the mix after adding Pro Bowl cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Patriots also made a lot of noise in the days leading up to the opening of training camps, taking on a pair of risky reclamation projects in flamboyant wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and controversial defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, who comes to New England from the Washington Redskins with a US$100 million price tag.
“Whatever someone has done in the past ... we just treat them all the same,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady told reporters. “Everyone starts with a clean slate. They’re trying to be a good teammate, be a good member of the team, put the team first and come out here and do your job.”
“I’ve known Chad a long time ... he brings a lot of energy to the team. I know he’s excited to be part of a new team,” Brady added. “Everyone is really searching for a role for themselves — Chad, myself, all of us are trying to figure out what we can do to help this team win.”
Some big names, however, were absent from camp on Saturday.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is expected to miss most of the preseason as the league’s four-time MVP recovers from off-season neck surgery to correct a disk problem.
In related news, Manning and the Colts agreed to a five-year US$90 million contract on Saturday that will make him the NFL’s highest paid player.
Colts owner Jim Irsay announced the deal on Twitter and it was later reported on the NFL’s Web site.
While the contract will average out at US$18 million per season, matching Brady’s deal with the Patriots, Manning will be paid US$69 million over the first three seasons.
The US$23 million average would easily make the 35-year-old Manning the league’s top paid player.
In 13 seasons, all with the Colts, Manning has never missed a game, making 208 consecutive starts, while establishing himself as one of the NFL’s most durable and dynamic players.
The 11-time Pro Bowler has passed for 54,828 yards, including a career-high 4,700 yards last season, and 399 touchdowns.
Meanwhile, other camp absentees on Saturday included Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who has followed through on his threat to retire unless traded.
San Francisco 49ers two-time Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore also remains on the sidelines as he holds out for a new contract.
Wide receiver Plaxico Burress continues to search for a new team as he attempts to rebuild his career after serving 20 months in prison on gun charges.
Burress has had talks with his former teams, the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, who drafted him with the eighth overall pick in 2000.
As more players reported to camp on Saturday, the signings continued with the New Orleans Saints inking in one of their first-round picks with 2009 Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram.