- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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The NFL will have a "soft'' launch to the 2011 league year by allowing players into team facilities for workouts starting Friday. A "harder'' launch will be announced Friday, when the league divulges plans for transactions.
What does this mean for the league's three-day draft and the short-term future? Here are the five things you need to know.
1. The draft is only a draft. The league will not allow veteran trades, signings or releases from Thursday to Sunday. Draft choices can be traded but no trade can involve players. Undrafted players still can't be signed until possibly Monday at the earliest, and interested teams cannot contact them. That process could start Monday.
2. Friday's announcement on player transactions will spell out which system NFL teams can use in the short term while the NFL awaits the 8th Circuit Court's consideration of its appeal of the Tom Brady lawsuit. At this stage, no one knows which system can be used, but the likelihood is free agency and trades could start as early as Monday. The NFL's decision on the system will be important. For example, it could use the 2010 rules, under which free agency can't be obtained until a player has been in the league for six years. If it uses the 2010 rules, the NFL won't have a salary cap. If it uses the 2009 rules, a salary cap could be included. Unfortunately for the Eagles, the timing wasn't right for the Eagles to trade quarterback Kevin Kolb in return for 2011 picks. Starting as early as Monday, though, the Eagles might be able to fill the quarterback need of a team by trading it Kolb for a 2012 draft choice.
3. Players can officially report back to work Friday at 8 a.m. and will be allowed to work out at team facilities. They can receive medical treatment and take physical examinations. Coaches will be able to meet with players, discuss playbooks and start preparing strategically for the 2011 season. Offseason workouts can start Friday, and players can receive $130 a day if they meet the requirements for offseason-workout bonuses. Coaches can start preparing for minicamps.
4. Left unannounced, though, is whether players can receive their offseason roster bonuses. Those details might be included in the league's announcement Friday.
5. One question remains: How long can the 2011 NFL system last? The league and the players remain at the mercy of the courts because neither side is in a position to come to a settlement on a new collective bargaining agreement. Players want to settle a lawsuit. Owners want the trade association to designate itself as a union in order to bargain collectively. But, at least for a short term, a reasonable facsimile of an offseason could begin as early as Monday.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
John Clayton writes about five things you should know about the NFL labor situation.