Hallelujah, our national nightmare is over, and without a second to spare. Football is back, and we'll have a full 16-game schedule to boot. The four-month battle between millionaires and billionaires was fun while it lasted (actually it wasn't fun at all, was it?) and is finally settled, so now we can concentrate on actual football news. And we can also stop speculating on what the millions of football fans would have done with their Sundays this fall with no NFL games to watch. Would they have become productive members of society, keeping their lawns in impeccable shape, doing selfless volunteer work, organizing neighborhood children in healthy activities, working with the elderly or spending their free time at the local community center or soup kitchen? Probably not. The more likely scenario had football fans angrily getting drunk every Sunday while staring out the window in a daze, screaming at random passerby as if they were Roger Goodell: "I hate you! You ruined my life!"
At any rate, the league will now have 10 years of peace, with no opt-out clause for either side. The cap for the coming season will be $120.375 million, but teams can borrow against future caps to pay veterans, so there is some flexibility, but the salary floor was raised to 90 percent of the cap. There's also a new rookie wage scale. And, thankfully, the 18-game schedule is dead (at least for a few years). So now the football world will be overflowing with action, as each team tries to cram the lost four months into one week. Training camps are beginning, fantasy football will go on as planned and the blood bath of free agency has already started, which has been like watching the floor of the stock exchange in Trading Places -- which begs the question: Which team will most resemble Billy Ray Valentine and Louis Winthorpe III by outsmarting Randolph and Mortimer Duke? But the worse thing about the NFL resuming business? The "Brett Favre is coming back" rumors have resurfaced as well. We can't have everything, though, can we? Now all fans have to do is forgive the players and owners and forget the last four months, which, with fans already immersing themselves in breaking news coming at them at a dizzying pace, I think has already happened.
And now on to the top stories in the world of New York sports.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Go (Big Blue Version): The New York Giants open camp on Friday, with their first real practice taking place on Saturday. But what everyone wants to know is, who's in and who's out. Mark Herzlich: In. The undrafted free agent and bone cancer survivor signed with the Giants (his BC connections couldn't have hurt), and the team could use all the help they can get at the linebacker position. Shaun O'Hara: Out. Rich Seubert: Out. These two stalwarts had the triple whammy going against them: They're coming off injuries, they're not getting any younger and they're relatively expensive. They were also the heart and soul of the team, so they will be missed big time. David Baas: In. Meet the new center, from San Francisco. Shawn Andrews: Out. No surprise there. Barry Cofield: Out, off to Washington for the big payday he was hoping for. Madison Hedgecock: Out. Steve Smith: Neither In nor Out yet. Ahmad Bradshaw: Neither In nor Out, but signs point to In with the Dolphins now out of the picture. Brandon Jacobs has been asked to restructure his contract, which could lead to Bradshaw and Smith returning. Osi Umenyiora: Will he report to camp? We'll soon find out, but the Charles Johnson deal with Carolina doesn't help Jerry Reese's case. Mathias Kiwanuka: In. Plaxico Burress: Who would have thought Tom Coughlin (who was extended this week through the 2012 season) would even agree to meet with him? Hopefully neither party brings a gun to the tête-à-tête on Friday.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Go (Gang Green Version): The New York Jets will open camp on Sunday, with their first practice on Monday. Who's in and out for Gang Green? Santonio Holmes: In. The talented receiver was the team's top priority, and he quickly came to an agreement, worth $50 million for five years ($24 million guaranteed). Maybe Holmes' top priority should be to stop tweeting photos of himself gulping from a champagne bottle -- couldn't he have at least put on a shirt to class things up a little? Kellen Clemens: Out, gone to the Redskins. Braylon Edwards: With Holmes In, it looks like Edwards will be Out. Antonio Cromartie: No news yet. Brad Smith: Out, as he's now a Buffalo Bill. Nick Folk: In. Nnamdi Asomugha: Possibly In. How sweet would it be to have this guy pair up with Darrelle Revis at the corners? Will opposing teams be able to complete a pass? Finally, Mark Sanchez is willing to rework his contract to free up some money for some new blood to improve the team. His leadership skills have been front and center the last four months, and he was just named the offensive captain for the upcoming season.
So Long, Carlos, and Good Luck: One by one they've been vanishing. Oliver Perez. Luis Castillo. Francisco Rodriguez. And now Carlos Beltran. Perez and Castillo disappeared into the Witness Protection Program, while K-Rod really hasn't been missed at all. Jason Isringhausen can load the bases before getting out of a jam to record a save, too, after all. The poster boys of the Omar Minaya era are being erased, as Sandy Alderson attempts to remake the team with his own vision and throw out the previous regime's leftovers. The present Met GM went for quality over quantity with the acquisition of top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler from the San Francisco Giants. Beltran will be missed (which you can read about here), but Alderson pulled off a coup by getting a potential top-of-the-rotation guy for Beltran. Rumors abounded that Beltran's stock was falling, with guys like B.J. Upton possibly on the market, but the Mets and Alderson (and the Giants, as well) ended up winners in this deal.
All Quiet in the Bronx: There's silence on the trade front for the New York Yankees as of Friday morning. Ubaldo Jimenez? Hiroki Kuroda? Nothing yet. As for the games on the field, the Bombers took on a couple of AL West Division patsies, the A's and Mariners, and went 4-2. Mariano Rivera extended his record of consecutive 25-save seasons on Sunday with his 15th. Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia both impressed in their starts. Eric Chavez returned to help solidify the infield defense. The offense put up a 17 spot against Oakland on Friday and scored 10 runs against Seattle on Monday. The only thing keeping CC Sabathia from being perfect on Tuesday was a downpour. Though he, David Robertson and Rivera teamed up to tie a franchise record with 18 strikeouts in a nine-inning game. The other time it was done was by Ron Guidry, on June 17, 1978, against the Angels. And like the Mariners, California (as they were known back then) wasn't exactly an offensive juggernaut. Shortstop Dave Chalk, who had a slugging percentage of .285 that season, batted third for the Angels in that game, after all. But poor Phil Hughes got hammered in the romp over the A's on Friday and was the sad-sack pitcher who was finally defeated by the Mariners, who had a 17-game losing streak going. Ivan Nova is waiting in the wings.
Gotta Love Terry Collins: "We've got guys that are playing for jobs, too. The minute they give up or quit, they won't be here next year." That was the sound advice/warning the New York Mets manager sent to his team this week in case anyone thought they could just fold up their tent and give up on the season. While the Mets may not realistically have a shot at the playoffs, no one on the roster is in a position to cruise through the rest of the season. And as they've done all season, the Mets just kept on playing, not caring who was in their lineup. After going 3-2 in Beltran's final games with the team (in his last act with the Mets, Beltran bought dinner for all his teammates after his final game on Tuesday), the Mets came out on Thursday and stomped all over the Reds, 8-2. The two guys who will be most affected by Beltran's absence -- Lucas Duda, who takes over in right field, and David Wright, who will now be the go-to guy in the lineup -- both had stellar games. Wright blasted a three-run homer and added another RBI and Duda hit a laser over the right-field fence. And they did it again on Thursday, with two more monster games, to cap off a four-game sweep of Cincinnati. Tim Byrdak deserves credit for getting the two most important outs in the Reds series, with his pair of strikeouts of Jay Bruce (though Isringhausen had his own battle with Bruce to get the last out of Thursday's win). And nobody is hotter than Daniel Murphy, who's now third in the NL in batting average and doubles. It's just too bad the Mets don't reside in the NL Central, as they would be right in the thick of a playoff race. Meanwhile, Johan Santana made his first minor-league rehab start on Thursday, threw three scoreless innings and, most importantly, felt good.
Captains Future & Past: The New York Steve Eminger to a one-year $800,000 deal, and they avoided arbitration with Ryan Callahan, who signed a three-year $13 million contract. These transactions just about finish up their great offseason, where the Blueshirts accomplished everything they needed to get done. There may be minor roster tinkering here and there, but the only thing really left to do is slap the "C" on Callahan's jersey. Over in Long Island, there's a rumor that the New York Islanders might bring back former captain Alexei Yashin, and, on Wednesday, a rally was held (no, not to keep Yashin from coming back) for the upcoming vote to build a new Nassau Coliseum. They also dealt Trent Hunter to the New Jersey Devils for Brian Rolston.signed defenseman
R.I.P. Hideki Irabu: In tragic and sad news, the former Yankee pitcher was found dead on Thursday, in an apparent suicide. In his three seasons with the Yankees, he posted a 29-20 record, with a 4.80 ERA, but will always be remembered for George Steinbrenner's less-than-flattering description of him. He played a total of six seasons in the majors, also pitching for Montreal and Texas, and finished his career with a 34-35 mark, to go along with a 5.15 ERA. He was 42 years old.