The NFL's offseason of discontent is over.
Now, it's time for football.
The 4 1/2-month lockout ended Monday with the players' approval of a 10-year collective bargaining agreement.
That means Vikings fans can head to Mankato for the business-as-usual start of preseason workouts, complete with autograph sessions and merchandise tents, on Monday.
It also means team officials will be scrambling to add free agents -- deals that normally would have been completed months ago -- during the next frantic week.
The settlement will give owners a higher percentage of the more than $9 billion in annual league revenues, but players made gains with practice rules that should make the game safer.
Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder reflected the feelings of many fans who will not lose any regular season games to a work stoppage that is the longest in the NFL's history.
"I'm relieved and excited that it's done," Ponder said. "For it to be official now is awesome, and obviously we're going to get to business by the end of the week."
The Vikings sent some equipment trucks from Winter Park to Mankato on Monday, and Leslie Frazier was excited during a press conference.
"This is great," said Frazier, who is preparing for his first training camp as Vikings head coach. "To be able to come back in here and talk about football and knowing we are about to kick off the 2011 season. It's been an interesting offseason, as we all can attest to. [I'm] just so grateful for our fans, for our organization that the lockout has been lifted."
The Vikings, along with the 31 other teams in the NFL, have been unable to conduct business since the lockout began March 11. Offseason workouts and camps were wiped out, with the draft being the only non-labor issue that fans could sink their teeth into.
On Tuesday morning, Vikings players will be allowed to report for physicals and voluntary strength and conditioning training at Winter Park. Trades also can be made, and some signings and negotiations can begin taking place. The Vikings, coming off a 6-10 season, will have a lot of work to do in a short time.
Among the issues: The team will have 16 unrestricted free agents, including No. 1 wide receiver Sidney Rice, and will have to look at addressing the contracts of Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson and linebacker Chad Greenway. Both players would like long-term deals -- Peterson is entering the last season of his contract and Greenway is playing on a one-year "franchise" tender -- and giving them new contracts would help the Vikings get under a salary cap that will be around $120 million.
The Vikings also are going to have to make a decision on whether to retain starting linebacker Ben Leber.
"Nobody likes uncertainty and not knowing what's going to happen," Leber said. "Especially for me being a free agent, the whole offseason was uncertain. For me, personally, I'm excited that we're back to work, and I can find out where that work is going to be."
It's not just the players and executives who will be busy.
Steve LaCroix, the Vikings chief marketing officer, said single-game tickets will go on sale Aug. 3, and a push will be made to increase the season-ticket base.
"[Season tickets are] down, but because of the unusual offseason you really can't compare apples to apples," he said. "We're going to be very aggressive with our season-ticket base that have not responded or didn't fully commit to this year, and get back in touch with them."
Lacroix said the Vikings have sold more than 2,500 new season tickets this offseason, but acknowledged the team isn't in the range of last year when it sold about 55,000.
Meanwhile, Frazier, Vice President of Player Personnel Rick Spielman and Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski figure to be working the phones at a furious pace as they try to retain their own free agents, court other free agents and sign their draft picks.
"It's exciting because it's a new challenge, it's something different that's out of the ordinary," Spielman said as his cell phone buzzed with updates from the NFL. "You've had months and months to kind of plan, rehash and look at all your different options, and now you get a chance to go out and try to execute those."
One player the Vikings won't have to worry about is defensive end Brian Robison, who signed a three-year, $14.1 million contract just before the lockout began. He hasn't seen a dime yet, but that is going to change.
"That's what we've been wanting all along, that's why we've been fighting it is just trying to get football back and trying to make sure it was right for the players and everything else," Robison said. "We've got football back and it's a very exciting time for not only the players, not only the owners and coaches but the fans alike."
Judd Zulgad • 612-673-7966