News that players had unanimously approved a new collective bargaining agreement to end the NFL lockout was well-received by Texans chairman and CEO Bob McNair on Monday.
After a four-and-a-half-month labor dispute, McNair smiled in his Reliant Stadium office as he discussed the thought of being back to football.
"I'm really excited that this is behind us, because this part of it is just business, like any other business," McNair said. "I'm in this because I love the sport, and this is not the sporting aspect of what we do. So to get it over with and to get everybody back together and out on the field, that's where I enjoy being, and so I'm delighted that it's behind us."
McNair was with the rest of the league's owners on Thursday in Atlanta, where they voted 31-0 – with one abstention from the Oakland Raiders – to approve the new CBA.
Now that the deal has been approved by players, a frenzy of activity is on the horizon league-wide. Teams can open their facilities to players on Tuesday at 9 a.m. CT, at which time they also can begin to sign their own draft picks and undrafted rookies.
"The crunch time now is number one, getting our players back in here," McNair said. "They'll start coming in tomorrow, and we've got free agents, college free agents that we will start talking to tomorrow, signing them, and our own free agents. So it's going to be pretty hectic here for the next three or four days."
Starting on Tuesday morning, teams can begin to negotiate with, but not sign, veteran players. That includes their own unrestricted free agents and restricted free agents as well as free agents from other teams.
Free agency begins in full on Friday at 5 p.m. CT.
"I think we're going to be very aggressive," McNair said of free agency. "We have to try to determine how we can get the most value for the money that we spend. The question is how many good quality players we can get with that money. Do you spend more money on one player that maybe is a top-flight player, but then you don't have money to spend on other quality players? Or do you spend more money on multiple quality players and improve your team more that way?
"That's what the coaches and (general manager) Rick Smith have to determine based upon who's available and what we can do, because it's not a one-way street here. We might want to do something, but if the players don't want to come here for some reason or they don't like our system, then you can't just unilaterally make that decision that they're going to be here. So it's very fluid, (but) we're going to get some quality players. We're going to continue to work on our defense, and we've said that. So I'm excited about it."
The Texans won't start training camp until Sunday, July 31. Under the new CBA, all teams will start camp 15 days before their first preseason game. The Texans and New York Jets play in the final game of the first weekend of the preseason, Aug. 15 on Monday Night Football at Reliant Stadium. They'll be the last two teams in the league to start camp.
"In a way, that hurts us, because for other teams that play their first preseason game on a Thursday, their 15 days start before their preseason game but it also means they'll have four or five more practices than we will by the time they play their first regular-season game," McNair said. "And so from a competitive standpoint, it's a competitive advantage for them, but that's the way the rules work and that's what we have to live with."
Once the Texans get to camp, all eyes will be on new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who'll have a short window to install his 3-4 system while incorporating new players and players in new positions. The Texans have had a top-four offense for three consecutive years, and McNair is hopeful that Phillips can help bring the defense up to par.
"We're really excited about our team and we're anxious to get them out on the field and see our rookies and also see what free agents we can pick up," McNair said. "I'm anxious to see our new additions to our coaching staff working with all of our coaches. I think that's going to be exciting. I'm ready for a very exciting season. I think we're going to be a very good football team, and I'm ready to go."