Thursday, March 3, 2011
Prolonged lockout hurts undrafted rookies
What players and teams will be impacted most by a lengthy NFL lockout?
ESPN's blog network put together a short list of unfavorable situations around the league.
NFC West blogger Mike Sando focused on the San Francisco 49ers and other young teams that will have to put development on hold. NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert looked at the Minnesota Vikings' undesirable troika of new head coach, new offensive coordinator and new quarterback. NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas examined the plight of Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Arrelious Benn. AFC North blogger James Walker shined a spotlight on Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy and his new coaches.
Here's my contribution to the project, an overview of how undrafted rookies will be adversely affected and why every team would suffer as a result ...
The NFL draft is stressful enough for prospects. They wait for their phones to light up, watch ESPN's ticker, repeatedly click refresh on their browsers or try to distract themselves by refusing to pay any attention at all.
A select few know they'll be drafted. A larger group wonders whether their names will be called before Mr. Irrelevant closes the show.
This year's draft will be even more worrisome for the latter group.
Absent a collective bargaining agreement, the draft still will take place April 28-30. But players who aren't selected in those seven rounds won't be allowed to sign with teams because free agency won't exist.
The moments immediately after the draft involve frenzied phone calls. Teams scurry to sign unattached prospects in hopes of landing the next Tony Romo, Arian Foster, LeGarrette Blount, Wes Welker, Antonio Gates or Bart Scott.
The AFC East is rife with undrafted starters. Two of the four team-leading rushers weren't drafted: New England Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson.
Rookie free agents are necessary to building a roster and maintaining a personnel budget. Although this year's undrafted rookies eventually will get opportunities to find work once there's a new CBA, a prolonged lockout will cripple their chances of making an immediate impact.
When a new CBA is struck, veteran free agents will overshadow the undrafted rookies. Under normal circumstances, the veterans have been picked over long before the draft begins. That allows front offices to concentrate solely on the newbies. We can expect a free-for-all this time.
Undrafted rookies also will face a tougher time when it comes to development. These are marginal pro prospects, long shots who must get into a team's offseason conditioning program as quickly as possible. It would be almost impossible to expect a rookie free agent to understand NFL schemes minus minicamps and voluntary workouts and with a compressed training camp.
These also are the kinds of players who make their way into the NFL on special teams. Imagine how many mistakes we'll see if teams insist on using their undrafted and late-round rookies on return and coverage units.