NFL Nation: AFC labor impact 2011

AFC West labor impact

March, 11, 2011
NFC labor impact: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at how a continued labor impasse and extended NFL freeze on transactions would affect the division:

Denver Broncos: A long labor impasse would stunt the development of second-year quarterback Tim Tebow. Like all young quarterbacks, Tebow needs time in the offseason to work with his coaches, study the playbook and work with teammates in the system. If Tebow missed an entire offseason, he would have a difficult time catching up once training camp starts, seriously damaging his chances to be the opening day starter.

New Denver coach John Fox is not going to be comfortable going with Tebow as his starting quarterback unless he gets ample time to see him perform in the offseason. If the impasse extends well into the summer, Denver may be forced to take a look at Kyle Orton instead of trading him. If there is a quick resolution before the draft, Denver could be tempted to move Orton.

Kansas City Chiefs: The biggest key in Kansas City is Matt Cassel’s continued development. He flourished in 2010 under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. However, Weis is now at the University of Florida. Cassel struggled in the two games after it was disclosed that Weis was leaving.

Kansas City promoted offensive line coach Bill Muir to offensive coordinator. But in addition to head coach Todd Haley, Cassel will work closely with new quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn, a former NFL quarterback and head coach. He has a strong reputation for working with quarterbacks.

Cassel and Zorn need time to work together. The two won’t be able to communicate during the labor impasse. It will be troublesome for the two to miss months of study time. This would put Cassel behind. He’d have to cram to learn Zorn’s ways. That could hurt the entire offense.

Oakland Raiders: A lengthy labor impasse would keep Oakland from knowing exactly what this team will look like. The Raiders have locked up defensive players Richard Seymour, Stanford Routt, Kamerion Wimbley and John Henderson in addition to special-teams player Rock Cartwright. They also have re-signed reserves Kyle Boller, Hiram Eugene and Daniel Loper. But Oakland still has many free agents to deal with, including star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, tight end Zach Miller, safety Michael Huff, running back Michael Bush and guard Robert Gallery. Gallery said he is not planning to return to Oakland. Oakland gave tenders to Bush and Miller, but they could end up being unrestricted free agents in a new CBA.

The Raiders have created some risk for themselves with their aggressive strategy of re-signing free agents. If there is a salary cap in the new CBA, they don't know how high or low it will be. So it's possible they have have painted themselves into a corner by giving out too many contracts.

Also, if the draft occurs before the impasse is resolved, the Raiders will have to make some tough decisions, based on the uncertainty of their remaining free-agent class.

San Diego Chargers: Like Oakland, San Diego has a lot of free-agent uncertainty. The Chargers didn’t enter the offseason with as many high-profile free agents as Oakland, but they have key players to deal with. Unlike Oakland, though, the Chargers haven’t been aggressive with their free agents during this uncertain time. The only way San Diego addressed free agency was by giving receiver Vincent Jackson the franchise tag. Keeping Jackson is key.

There are other issues. San Diego needs to figure out what to do with safety Eric Weddle and receiver Malcom Floyd . They put restricted free-agent tenders on them, but there is a chance they could be unrestricted free agents in a new CBA. They are two key players.

The Chargers have a good roster, but it does need to be enhanced. A long impasse will keep the Chargers from fully knowing exactly what their roster will look like. That could create some anxiety for a team that thinks it can make a Super Bowl push with the right moves. However, adding former defensive player of the year Bob Sanders was a sign that when free agency does begin, this team could be active on the open market, which hasn't been the case in recent years.

AFC North labor impact

March, 11, 2011
NFC labor impact: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at how a continued labor impasse and extended NFL freeze on transactions would affect the division:

Cleveland Browns: The Browns are among the most affected teams in this impasse. Cleveland has a rookie head coach (Pat Shurmur), a young quarterback (Colt McCoy) and will switch systems on both offense and defense.

Cleveland hasn't run a 4-3 defense since 2004. The team also has to make alterations in personnel to fit the scheme. With free agency delayed, the draft becomes even more important for the Browns to fix weaknesses, particularly on the defensive line.

A West Coast offense is all about timing, and McCoy will not get the usual amount of offseason preparation to learn the new playbook and work with his coaches and teammates. Whenever a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, Cleveland needs to make up for lost time ASAP.

Cincinnati Bengals: It has been an offseason of turmoil for the Bengals. Franchise quarterback Carson Palmer wants out, they fired their offensive coordinator and several players such as Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco have lashed out about the team.

A prolonged work stoppage could provide mixed results for Cincinnati. The bad news is that obviously the Bengals won’t be able to start their offseason program and the rebuilding process to getting over last year’s abysmal 4-12 season. But a work stoppage also would give the organization a chance to step back, take a breather and really evaluate all that has gone wrong internally.

The biggest decision is what to do with Palmer. Cincinnati could not trade Palmer until there is a new collective bargaining agreement. But right now it appears the Bengals are ready to call his bluff and see whether Palmer retires. Despite a stoppage, things will be really interesting in Cincinnati.

Baltimore Ravens: I don’t have the same worries about Baltimore as I do with Cincinnati and Cleveland. The Ravens are by no means perfect and still have holes to fill. But they have an identity and should be ready to move forward as soon as a new CBA is reached.

The draft is always huge for the Ravens and general manager Ozzie Newsome, and that’s where their focus will be for the next six weeks. But a labor impasse will delay a chance for Baltimore to work out a long-term extension for Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, who was given the franchise tag.

With so much pressure on starting quarterback Joe Flacco entering his fourth season, I’m sure Baltimore would like to get him in the facility and back to work as soon as possible.

Pittsburgh Steelers: As with Baltimore, I don’t have much concern about the reigning AFC Champion Steelers. They are a veteran team with the same system in place and kept most of their coaches.

Pittsburgh traditionally is not a major player in free agency. Therefore, that delay won’t affect the team. The Steelers will put most of their focus on building through the draft.

On a lighter note, Steelers receiver and captain Hines Ward will be participating in “Dancing With The Stars.” So that will at least give Steeler Nation something to watch in the coming months during the labor impasse.

AFC South labor impact

March, 11, 2011
NFC labor impact: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at how a continued labor impasse and extended NFL freeze on transactions would affect the division:

Houston Texans

A stoppage means the team will not get a jump on adding free agents who would fit defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ new 3-4 scheme and will not have as much time as it typically would to install such a system.

The positive spin from Phillips and his boss, head coach Gary Kubiak, has been that it’s not a super-complicated changeover and will not take that long. Even if that’s the case, more time is better than less for a team in transition that is searching for some new personnel.

The team has good leadership under contract if players decide to gather for their own workouts.

Indianapolis Colts

No team may be as equipped to handle a frozen period as the Colts. Give them health and a draft class and they won’t be far from their opening day roster. They’ve pledged they’ll delve a bit more into free agency than their traditional approach -- which has been not to touch free agents of significance. One area that’s an exception is that they do well with the rookie free-agent pool and will have to wait for that.

Even though two offensive assistants flipped positions and there is a new running backs coach, the offensive and defensive systems are in place. The veteran players also have a full understanding of them. No one will do better at arranging team activities without coaching supervision than Peyton Manning (though there are injury concerns in such a set-up).

Chris Polian is taking on more power in the front office while Bill Polian scales back a bit. A slower couple months may require the fleshing out of multiple plans but surely help provide an atmosphere that helps this stage of the transition.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars may benefit most from the fact that a delay hurts two of its division foes, the Texans and Titans. Jacksonville’s seen very little change on Jack Del Rio’s staff and won’t have substantial player turnover.

Gene Smith wants to be a draft-first team, and it appears it’ll be a draft-first league. And when the team still has holes after the end of April, it will be ready to add at least a few veteran free agents if and when that market opens.

QB David Garrard has spoken candidly about arranging workouts, and he can score big in the leadership department if he leads a successful campaign and has guys ready when things are settled.

Tennessee Titans

New head coach, two new coordinators and two new quarterbacks who are not yet on the roster. No one needs a full offseason and as much interaction with players as the Titans do, and they stand to suffer as badly as anyone in the league.

New head coach Mike Munchak and his staff will have plenty of time to chime in with GM Mike Reinfeldt’s scouts about draft prospects and to discuss how they’d like to tinker. But if the rookies are drafted and the new coaches cannot talk with players, it’s a hurry-up and wait scenario.

Munchak has already said that such a landscape may dictate that the team doesn’t change a lot system-wise for 2011 because there won’t be sufficient time to do so. Though they won’t call it a rebuilding process, many changes could be forced to wait until 2012.

AFC East labor impact

March, 11, 2011
NFC labor impact: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at how a continued labor impasse and extended NFL freeze on transactions would affect the division:

Buffalo Bills: The Bills are a young team that built momentum toward the end of last season. They went 4-4 in the second half. Over a six-game stretch in October and November they went 2-4, and each loss was by three points to an eventual playoff team. Three of them were in overtime.

A prolonged work stoppage would stunt Buffalo's development. Head coach Chan Gailey is entering his second year, but his first offseason with Ryan Fitzpatrick as starting quarterback. The Bills also could draft a quarterback next month, but they wouldn't be able to sign him or work with him until there's a new collective bargaining agreement.

Inexperienced players with one or two years dot the roster: running back C.J. Spiller, guards Eric Wood and Andy Levitre, nose tackle Torell Troup, outside linebackers Aaron Maybin and Arthur Moats, safety Jairus Byrd. They would benefit from as much prep time as they can get.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins' offense will have serious difficulty taking shape if there's a long work stoppage. Incumbent quarterback Chad Henne wouldn't be on the securest footing if we were heading into a normal offseason. The Dolphins were frustrated enough to remove him as their starter twice last year. Now he's working with a new offensive coordinator (Brian Daboll) and new quarterbacks coach (Karl Dorrell) who never has been a quarterbacks coach before.

Henne got a head start on his offseason by meeting with Daboll and Dorrell and trying to absorb as much of the playbook as he could. Henne intends to communicate Daboll's philosophies to his teammates with informal workouts in South Florida.

That's where the Dolphins can have an advantage if they remain diligent. A large percentage of their players maintain homes in South Florida, making it easy for them to assemble for group sessions.

All of Henne's work could be rendered moot if the Dolphins want to acquire another quarterback, but then they'll have another problem. Until there's a new CBA, teams cannot sign free agents or make player trades. That means the Dolphins are in limbo if they want to make a play for an intriguing group of candidates that includes Kevin Kolb, Kyle Orton, Carson Palmer, Donovan McNabb and Vince Young.

New England Patriots: If any team can withstand a protracted work stoppage, it's the reigning AFC East champions. The Patriots have a solid roster filled with veterans, particularly on offense. Their coaching staff remained mostly intact. They're flush with draft picks.

The biggest impact probably would be felt on defense, where the Patriots sometimes started four rookies: end Brandon Deaderick, outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, inside linebacker Brandon Spikes and cornerback Devin McCourty.

Although a couple of veteran defenders returning from injuries -- defensive end Ty Warren and cornerback Leigh Bodden -- should help stabilize them, the Patriots will have difficulty coaching up their youngsters and improving their terrible third-down defense in a compacted offseason.

Another issue could be the way the Patriots flip through interchangeable parts. The Patriots are adept at discovering undrafted free agents and reclaiming other teams' castoffs while constantly overturning the bottom of their roster. With no CBA, these roster moves cannot happen.

New York Jets: Free agency will be the Jets' biggest issue if a work stoppage drags out. They have the most free agents in the AFC East and declined to re-sign any of them aside from placing the franchise tag on inside linebacker David Harris. The Jets didn't want to make any decisions until they knew what the next CBA looked like. That created several questions up and down the roster.

Receiver is the biggest question mark. Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards are without contracts, and quarterback Mark Sanchez needs a strong supporting cast. On defense, safety is a concern with Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo all about to be free agents, too.

No CBA means the Jets won't be able to sign incoming free agents either. Polls have shown players around the league would love to play for Rex Ryan more than any other coach. But the Jets can't use that to their advantage until there's a new deal.



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