NFL Nation: Faces of lockout

The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects also are felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:

You've heard of NHL players taking the Stanley Cup on tour? Last Friday, Green Bay Packers tight end Tom Crabtree took his Super Bowl ring on a tour through Green Bay. (Packers players received their rings during a Thursday night ceremony.)

[+] EnlargeTom Crabtree
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesTight end Tom Crabtree said he felt his Super Bowl ring was "just as much [the fans'] ring as it is ours."
Crabtree announced via Twitter that he was heading to Bay Park Square Mall. "I'll be the tattooed freak with a Super Bowl ring on lol," Crabtree tweeted.

As Michelle Tuckner of WBAY-Ch. 2 chronicled, Crabtree doesn't have a lot of arm space left for new tattoos. But the lockout gave him plenty of time to roam the mall in a low-key and fun way. Crabtree mingled with fans, encouraged them to try on the ring and explained the significance of the design.

"I feel like it's just as much their ring as it is ours just because of the support they give us," Crabtree said, "and what they do for this team on Sundays when that stadium is packed. So it's important to give back to the fans."

I guess a cynic could find any number of alternative reasons for cruising the mall with your Super Bowl ring, but I prefer to consider this as a genuine gesture of egalitarianism that probably wouldn't happen in other NFL cities.

(Other cynics might ask, "Who is Tom Crabtree?" Short answer: He is a reserve tight end, originally signed to the Packers' practice squad in Dec. 2009, whose playing time escalated following Jermichael Finley's knee injury. He caught four passes in the regular season but scored a critical touchdown in the Packers' wild-card playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.)

Earlier: The lockout is a good thing for semi-pro football players. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has accelerated work on his music label.
The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- When his favorite team arrived two summers ago for training camp, Mark Braun was as happy as a clam -- make that a bucket of steamed littlenecks.

[+] EnlargeCimini
ESPNNewYork.comMark Braun, left, owner of Doug's Fish Fry, says sales spike when the Jets are in training camp.
Braun sells fish for a living, but he lives for the New York Jets. When they decided to hold camp in Cortland, a small city on I-81 south of Syracuse, it was both a football fantasy and a boon for business.

Braun owns a popular seafood restaurant, Doug's Fish Fry, located only a few Brad Smith kickoff returns from the football facility on the Cortland State campus. Quicker than Rex Ryan could say, "We're gonna win the Super Bowl," Braun, 42, became a local celebrity. Players, coaches, staffers and, of course, fans -- plenty of hungry and thirsty fans -- flocked to Doug's between two-a-day practices.

Sales spiked by 25 percent in the month of August. Save for Good Friday, the day of the annual intrasquad scrimmage is his busiest of the year.

Now with the NFL lockout into June, threatening to sabotage training camp, Braun is facing the distinct possibility of a Jets-less summer. The Jets have two years remaining on their contract with Cortland State, but if the labor dispute isn't settled by July 1 (there is some wiggle room), they will have no choice but to hold camp at their headquarters in Florham Park, N.J.

For Braun, that stinks more than week-old flounder.

"Of course, on the business side, it would hurt," he said. "Not having a year, Doug's Fish Fry wouldn't be as fresh in everybody's mind. But, to be honest, I'll miss it more as a fan. You never know who's going to come in."

Ryan popped in once for a Jets sundae -- dyed-green ice cream, marshmallows and whipped cream, a diet-busting treat for the big coach. GM Mike Tannenbaum brought in his young son for his birthday party, with Braun supplying the cake.

Dozens of players, from LaDainian Tomlinson to Santonio Holmes, have stopped by for the fried scallops and fish sandwich. One night last summer, the crew from HBO's "Hard Knocks" filmed for more than hour inside the restaurant, resulting in a spontaneous "J-E-T-S, Jets! Jets! Jets!" cheer from diners.

Braun's place is filled with Jets memorabilia -- photos on the wall, autographs, banners, helmets and jerseys. There are flat-screen TVs on the wall, always tuned to SportsCenter. It's the ultimate man cave, with the bonus of good food, cold beer and killer milkshakes.

Braun got hooked on the Jets in the late 1970s, when he saw Mark Gastineau and his mother in an electric-razor commercial. The following Sunday, Braun watched the game and spotted the guy from the funny commercial -- Gastineau -- performing his celebrated sack dance.

So began a lifelong passion.

Braun is a longtime season-ticket holder, driving 440 miles round trip to every home game. As he said, "That's all I know on Sundays." Training camp is like a month of Sundays, but now he's deeply concerned that there will be no football.

"It would be like an empty nest," he said.

For Doug's Fish Fry, that would shuck.

[+] EnlargeTony Boselli
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesSelling season tickets during the lockout hasn't been easy for Tony Boselli and the Jaguars.
The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:

He championed his former team, putting on the hard sell.

And last offseason as the face of Team Teal, Tony Boselli did wonders for the Jaguars, spearheading a campaign that re-energized the market, sparked ticket sales and moved the franchise forward in a big way with ticket sales.

Once the national punch line on attendance jokes, the Jaguars didn’t have a single home game blacked out in 2010. Team Teal did a lot in getting an average of around 63,000 fans to EverBank Field for home games. At the start of the season, 38,894 of those were season tickets.

But as Boselli and Team Teal readied for a second offseason push, to ensure renewals and sell more tickets, they came up against something as tough as any defensive end who rushed against Boselli during his superb career as a left tackle: the NFL lockout.

“We’re behind where we were last year at this point,” Boselli said. “We didn’t have the percentage of renewals we did last year, which was very good and very high. ...

“There is a lot of work to be done to get people back on board and buying tickets.”

The team keeps a chart at its website tracking the status of ticket sales. The Jaguars need to sell an additional 18,633 tickets per game to ensure the general bowl is full, which ensures a game isn’t blacked out in the home market.

“They’re going to buy the tickets when a deal is done,” the tireless and ever-optimistic Boselli said. “I’m disappointed we are where we are. But it’s not hopeless, I’m not completely discouraged thinking, 'Oh gosh, we’re back where we were two years ago with a very stale fan base, not supporting the team, not showing up.'

“I think we’re just in a wait-and-hold pattern.”
BryantCourtesy of Matt BryantAtlanta kicker Matt Bryant with his wife Melissa and their family, from left: Daniel, 13, Tre', 4 , Madison, 9, Joshua, 9, and Jacob, 11.
Growing up in South Texas, Matt Bryant could measure the seasons by which ball his father picked up.

Winter, spring, summer and fall didn’t really matter. The measuring sticks were football, baseball and basketball seasons. At the appropriate time, the boy and his father would switch sports and practice out in the yard.

It was so easy and pure back then, and those practice sessions helped lead to the younger Bryant reaching his dream of an NFL career. But there’s no telling when the 2011 football season will start. The NFL labor situation is quite murky and Bryant's dream seems to be headed for a nightmare.

Bryant, the Atlanta Falcons' kicker, is frustrated that the lockout is lingering. It’s understandable because Bryant, who had a great 2010 season, long ago should have had a new contract. He should know where he’s going to have his family settled when a big event comes in the fall. But, like a lot of other players out there, Bryant has no clue what’s going on.

“I can do all the research in the world,’’ Bryant said of the labor strife between the owners and players. “What I say or do isn’t going to fix the problem. But I just want to understand why my childhood dream and the way I make my living is in such jeopardy.’’

Unless something happens very quickly, Bryant’s going to have to make a very difficult decision soon. He’s a free agent and, although the Falcons have said they’d like to re-sign him and his preference is to remain in Atlanta, no deal was reached before the lockout and there’s no guarantee one will be reached if and when it is lifted.

That’s where things get complicated for Bryant. His family is currently in Atlanta and the children finish school soon, but have youth-league baseball through the end of the month. The family usually spends a few weeks in Texas before the start of training camp and a trip to Texas remains planned this year.

But it remains to be seen if Bryant’s wife, Melissa, and the children will stay in Texas, return to Atlanta or go to the home the family still owns in Tampa, where Bryant used to play for the Buccaneers. Here’s the real sticking point on that: Melissa is pregnant with twins and due sometime in September or October. That will give the couple seven children and the Bryant’s haven’t made any plans on where to send the older ones to school in the fall.

“Do I take them with me, wherever I’m going? Do I leave them?’’ Bryant said. “I just don’t know.’’

Suppose the Bryants go back to Atlanta, the lockout ends sometime late in the summer and Bryant somehow ends up signing with another team. It’s not easy to pack up a large family, including a wife about to give birth, and suddenly head off to a strange city.

Bryant feels helpless as he watches the two sides argue back and forth.

“I’m just like the neighbor across the street,’’ Bryant said. “I know as much as they know. I’ve tried to reach out to people to find out what exactly is going on. A lot of stuff is just not making sense. You hear the right things being said by both sides, but nothing seems to be getting done and it’s extremely frustrating because it creates huge uncertainty. I wish it could go back to the way it was when I was a boy with my dad. It was a game then. I’d like it to get back to being a game.’’
The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:

[+] EnlargeRaiders' Amy Trask
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIRERaiders CEO Amy Trask is keeping employees busy during the lockout.
The truth of the lockout for NFL teams is that their non-player employees are not locked out. They report to work every day, business as usual in this most unusual of times.

Finding a way to keep business flowing and productivity high is a challenging goal for every executive. It seems Oakland Raiders chief executive Amy Trask has scored a touchdown during the lockout.

Faced with the challenge, Trask came up with a creative way to both avoid giving employees pay cuts during the lockout (several teams have forced employees to take pay reductions or furloughs) and boost season-ticket sales. The team has asked every employee, coaches included, to make up 10 percent of their salary by selling season tickets during the lockout. Employees are hitting the streets of the Bay Area, trying to drum up business for the team that had the lowest average home attendance in the NFL last season.

For Trask, it’s a case of making lemonade out of lemons.

“The lockout poses business challenges for teams,” Trask said. “I wanted to find a solution for the Raiders that was constructive and productive for everyone in the organization and to make the Raiders bigger and stronger. We think we have accomplished it in the terms of people from different departments in the building are all working together.”

Trask said the program has worked and built solid camaraderie in the organization. She said she hopes to use the program, perhaps as an incentive-based program, in future offseasons.

Trask also has said the team has taken advantage of the unexpected down time to allow coaches, trainers, equipment managers, groundskeepers and public relations staff, among others, to get involved with the team’s community programs. The Raiders have a community-based program, “Raider Nation on Location.” The team goes to several community events in the Bay Area.

Thus, Trask is ensuring her employees are not standing by idly, waiting for the lockout to end. The Raiders are being aggressive as they can be during the lockout.

“Don’t get me wrong, we’d much, much rather be having OTAs and minicamps and getting ready for the season,” Trask said. “But we’re doing what we can now to get ready for the season when it does return.”
The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:

[+] EnlargeRiza Muhamid
Courtesy of Hunter SvensonRunning back Riza Muhamid, 33, is the primary running back for the Minnesota Dragons of the Northern Elite Football League.
The lockout has spawned dread and disgust throughout most of this country's football landscape. Most. In some areas, it has sparked hope and forced us to remember why people play this game.

Brad Svenson, for one, has been planning to capitalize on the lockout for more than a year. Svenson, who owns the semi-pro Minnesota Dragons of the Northern Elite Football League, has tried to position his team as a source of replacement players should the NFL decide to play games without its unionized players.

Svenson secured the Metrodome as the Dragons' 2011 home field, a plan since scuttled by the building's roof collapse, and has built a relationship with the sizable stable of former Minnesota Vikings players who live in the Twin Cities. His coach is former Vikings cornerback Rufus Bess, who has led the Dragons to a 4-0 start this season. In previous years, former Vikings defensive end Willie Howard was in charge.

The NFL used replacement players for three games during a 1987 strike, but the chances of replacement games in 2011 appear remote. Commissioner Roger Goodell has consistently downplayed the idea. Even without replacement games, the lockout means potential opportunity for businessmen like Svenson and other owners in the 12-team NEFL.

"From a marketing standpoint, a lockout is great for me," Svenson said. "I tell people, 'This may be your only chance for football.'"

The NEFL has teams throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin for a 10-game schedule that ends in August. Crowds of up to 3,000 have shown up for games in western Wisconsin. Players pay an equipment fee of up to $300 and are subject to NCAA rules for amateurism because some players still have college eligibility. Indeed, the Dragons have players ranging in age from 18 to 40.

You could view the NEFL as an idealized form of what has very clearly become a business in the NFL.

I'm sure semi-pro players love the game; otherwise, they wouldn't subject themselves to twice-weekly practices and the punishment that goes along with once-weekly games. And there is no doubt some dream of an NFL scout wandering over to a game and discovering them.

[+] EnlargeJason Johnson
Courtesy of Hunter SvensonDragons quarterback Jason Johnson, 7, played high school football in the Twin Cities and then at Division II Charleston (W. Va.).
Many of them are like Dragons quarterback Jason Johnson, a former Twin Cities high school star who played at Division II Charleston (W.Va.). "We have players who are playing with no health insurance and part-time jobs," Johnson said, "just because they are chasing a dream or because they love playing the game for fun."

In the end, of course, semi-pro players are more likely to get a tryout with the United Football League than the NFL. That's happened about 10 times in the past two years, according to Svenson. More than pursuing dreams, Svenson said, semi-pro football is about "the same motivation that kids have when they play.

"In the end," Svenson added, "people want to friggin' win. They want to be part of a group of guys that got together and beat everybody in their path. That's why these guys play. We're competitive. We love winning. You play as hard as you can because that's a good feeling. My guys don't look at football in a financial sense or as a way to financial gain.

"The whole lockout is a ridiculous thing to them. We can all say the numbers, but we can't even fathom them. Our guys, all they want is a chance to play in front of a crowd, and have that feeling that goes along with winning."

Faces of lockout: Hangout for Bills' fans

June, 1, 2011
Dan DeMarcoTim Graham/ESPN.comOwner Dan DeMarco of the Big Tree Inn in Orchard Park, N.Y. The wooden statues, from left, are Chris Berman, Jim Kelly and Andre Reed.
The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Big Tree Inn has been a Buffalo Bills institution for decades.

The beloved watering hole and wing joint is about 600 yards of Abbott Road sidewalk away from Gate 4 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Signed jerseys from Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Kent Hull, Bruce Smith and Darryl Talley adorn the walls of the modest 1,600-square-foot space. Ruben Brown, the perennial Pro Bowl guard, has his own corner.

The Big Tree Inn is a gathering spot for fans and a rite of passage for the players who pass through during the week -- and after home games -- to hang out with hardcore patrons. Wise visiting players place to-go orders for the bus ride to the airport or the outbound flight.

Reed called the Big Tree "a hallowed place" that when he walks through the door gives him the same feeling others might get when they walk into Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium.

"That was the first place I walked into as a so-called Bills rookie at that time," Reed said. "Every time you walk in there, you get a sense of what the Bills are all about."

You can imagine how much a Ralph Wilson Stadium neighborhood restaurant with 12 employees would rely on NFL games to remain profitable. With the lockout threatening to wipe out exhibitions and maybe even regular-season dates, Big Tree Inn owners Dan DeMarco and Brian Duffek are nervous.

"We're just praying," Duffek said on a quiet Tuesday afternoon at the bar. "If this is the crowd we have on a Sunday in October, we've got a big problem."

The Big Tree is as much of the game-day routine for many Bills fans as putting on a parka. Duffek said home games account for about 30 percent of the Big Tree's annual revenues. The till already had been shorted by games the Bills outsourced to Toronto through 2012.

In addition to the business' bottom line, bartenders could lose out on hundreds of dollars in tips each day. Hours likely would be cut for the whole staff.

"Everybody says 'There's only eight or nine home games,' but people don't realize that a home-game crowd starts showing up on Thursdays and pour into Mondays," DeMarco said from behind the bar. "People flock in from out of town and fill the motels around here. They give us four or five days of business every home game."

DeMarco joked about his regular crew of "season-ticket holders" who prefer to watch the home games at his place rather than in person.

A large wood carving of Reed stands outside the entrance alongside versions of Kelly and ESPN's Chris Berman. Bottles of Reed's Over the Middle Sauce are stationed around the bar.

"It's been cemented in my life," Reed said. "When we became a team in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Big Tree was a huge part of that.

"The camaraderie was always evident when we showed up there and, over some beers and some wings, would talk about our team and what our goals were. Every Friday we went to the Big Tree, talked about the week's practice and could be ourselves away from the coaches and the stadium. A lot of tension was released there. A lot of things were gotten off our chests in that place. Any time I go back up there, it's a lot of memories."

There are a lot of ghosts wafting around the Big Tree, but Sundays could make the place look like a ghost town if the lockout endures.
The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or business touch their teams. Here are their stories:

[+] EnlargeBryan Shepherd
Courtesy of Bryan ShepherdBryan Shepherd is the general manager of Marriott hotel properties in Berea, Ohio. His hotels could lose revenue if the lockout eats into training camp.
According to Bryan Shepherd, the NFL lockout is tough. But the situation still has the potential to get worse.

The general manager of Marriott hotel properties in Berea, Ohio, where the Cleveland Browns train, lost his biggest business client for the spring because of the lockout. But Shepherd is hopeful he won't lose the substantial amount of revenue he receives from the Browns later this summer when the team fills up his hotels during training camp.

"The Browns are still holding the rooms but it keeps getting pushed back," Shepherd said. "Chances are rookie camp [will be lost]. So we've worked hard on replacing business we might not have from the Browns right now. But the toughest thing is to anticipate and be there for them when they need the rooms."

Marriott owns a Courtyard, TownePlace Suites and Residence Inn in Berea and has been a partner with the Browns since the team returned to the NFL in 1999. The practice facility is close by, making it easy for players to get to and from practice during the warm spring and summer months.

For offseason workouts and minicamps, the Browns rent an estimated 20 to 25 rooms at the Courtyard property for up to 45 days for drafted and undrafted rookies and a few veterans without residences in the Cleveland area. During training camp, which lasts about five weeks, the Browns have rented as many as 94 rooms depending on the year, according to Shepherd. It is annually the hotel's most reliable source of revenue in an unstable economy.

But Shepherd says he is fortunate the NFL lockout did not take place last year or two years ago, when the travel industry hit a major dry spell and the financial loss would have been tougher to absorb. Business travel is finally starting to show growth nationally and in the Cleveland area.

"In 2009 and 2010, most hotels saw anywhere between a 10-18 percent decrease in total occupancy and rate," Shepherd said. "In 2011, research is showing people are traveling more and companies are starting to let their associates travel more."

With the lockout reaching its 78th day and counting, it appears the start of training camp could be in jeopardy. Shepherd, like all NFL fans, hopes the players and owners can reach a timely agreement before it gets to that point.
Maurice KellyCourtesy of Rod Mar/Seattle SeahawksSeahawks senior director of player development Maurice "Mo" Kelly in his office at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, the team's headquarters in Renton, Wash. His busy spring schedule is quiet this year.
The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:

RENTON, Wash. -- The candy dish on Maurice Kelly's desk rests undisturbed.

Six giant leather chairs in his office sit unoccupied.

Kelly, the Seattle Seahawks' senior director of player personnel, feels the effects of the NFL lockout more directly than most. The players' lounge outside his office is silent these days. The work Kelly does in preparing players for life inside and outside football will have to wait.

"Right now, this would be a really busy time for me because as of May 15, our rookies would have been here," Kelly said during a recent interview. "I would meet with them at least 3-4 times a week, start talking about all the things they are going to encounter as a rookie."

Each spring and summer, NFL teams hand over piles of cash to men in their early 20s, many of whom possess zero real-world life experience. Society calls this a recipe for disaster. Teams hire people such as Kelly, a 38-year-old former Seahawks safety, to help even out the odds.

"My thing is to be able to minimize all the distractions off the field so they can focus when they get here," Kelly said. "That entails helping them become a well-rounded individual, helping them get prepared for life after football, which is through player development, continuing education, financial education, job internships, those sorts of things."

Kelly seeks to ensure that players know basics such as how to manage a paycheck. He connects players with credit-management specialists. He helps players understand how best to handle friends and family members, some with dollar signs in their eyes. Kelly attends practices and has a feel for what coaches want from players, putting him in position to offer football-related input as well.

The job is all about earning players' trust and then giving them counsel without passing judgment or expecting anything in return. What's spoken inside Kelly's office walls must stay there, in other words.

"I get a chance to know them on a level that really no one else gets to know them, from Day 1," Kelly said.

It's tough not to take it personally when a player finds himself unprepared for life after football.

"Being under this umbrella we call the NFL, this is not reality," Kelly said. "Reality strikes when you walk outside this building once you've been released from the team and you're just kind of caught out there. It's about helping these guys be successful. I would never turn my back on one of these players whether they have been here for one day or 10 years."
The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:

IRVING, Texas -- When Shaun Chapas was picked by the Cowboys in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, he had certain visions of what the NFL life would be like.

Shaun Chapas
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesWith no team-led camps, Cowboys seventh-rounder Shaun Chapas has bounced from high school to high school to keep working out.
Roughly a month after the Georgia fullback was selected, he is still waiting for that life to begin, thanks to the NFL lockout.

“I don’t know any better because I haven’t done it before,” Chapas said. “It’s kind of a different year. I’m looking forward to it getting going.”

For the last three weeks, Chapas has been working out four days a week at The Factory in Atlanta with about a dozen other players either already in the NFL or in the same state of limbo as him. Seattle quarterback Charlie Whitehurst has taken Chapas and some wide receivers and tight ends, like Ben Hartsock of the New York Jets, to area high schools for on-field workouts.

They are already on their third high school in as many weeks.

“We’ve become nomads,” Chapas said, “just having to beg high schools to let us work out.”

Chapas exchanged email with Tony Romo about attending the Cowboys’ player-run workouts in May, but said “the logistics of it made it difficult. We’re going to wait a little on that.”

As the 220th overall pick, Chapas is guaranteed of making the 53-man roster, although Chris Gronkowski is currently the Cowboys’ only other fullback. In a normal offseason, Chapas would have had a rookie minicamp and at least two weeks of organized team activities by now to get him up to speed on the offense.

Because of the lockout, though, Chapas does not have a playbook and has relied mostly on what he learned during his visit with the Cowboys at the NFL scouting combine and the quick conversation he had with head coach Jason Garrett and running backs coach Skip Peete after he was picked.

His best hope of seeing the Cowboys' offense is to catch a re-run of a game on NFL Network.

“If I catch one, I’m definitely going to watch it,” Chapas said.

He has already been to Cowboys Stadium for a game. His roommate at Georgia was Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Cowboys won, 35-19, on Nov. 21 but Stafford did not play because of a shoulder injury.

“I was with some of his buddies from high school and his parents asked me, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you could play here?’” Chapas said. “I was thinking that would be awesome, but I wasn’t really thinking about being a Cowboy at the time. But it sure crossed my mind.”

Now that chance is tantalizingly close, but also so far away. For now, Chapas shows up for workouts at The Factory and hopes a high school will allow them to throw some passes.

“I’ll talk to friends and they’ll ask the same basic question: When are you going to Dallas?” Chapas said. “I have to tell them I really don’t know because we’re just waiting. I think it will get worked out, right?”
The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:

It’s not the interminable waiting or the verbal sparring between owners and players that eats away at Barry Cofield during this seemingly never-ending lockout.

[+] EnlargeBarry Cofield
Howard Smith/US PresswireGiants defensive tackle Barry Cofield is among the players with an uncertain contract status because of the lockout.
The most difficult part to swallow for the New York Giants' defensive tackle is the uncertainty. While the future of the NFL hangs in the balance this summer, the earning potential of fifth-year players like Cofield will be determined as well.

After producing the best season of his career with 54 tackles and four sacks while playing on a one-year restricted free agent tender in 2010, Cofield is finally ready to cash in on his first big contract. But the lockout has left his status up in the air. Like some other fifth-year players, Cofield could become an unrestricted free agent. Or, depending on how it all plays out, the 27-year-old could be a restricted free agent again.

“It is rough,” Cofield recently said. “Being restricted last year, it wasn’t as frustrating. I don’t know. Just to have it happen one year, I took it in stride. I was looking forward to the next season. But now with all the labor strife, and the prospect of being restricted again, it is starting to weigh on me.”

Cofield has made more than $4 million during his career and understands he is better off than some other young players. But he has been an absolute bargain for the Giants, and his free agent status could become a casualty of the lockout if the sides opt to go by something similar to last year’s rules.

“That is going to make a lot of people unhappy,” Cofield said. “There would be a small class of unrestricted [free agents] and the rest of us would be stuck [in restricted free agency].”

Just in case, the Giants placed a second-round restricted free agent tender on Cofield and others in his situation, such as defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka.

“To do it again, to roll the dice with injuries and all the things that can happen in this league, it is something I am not willing to do,” Cofield said. “Not having that peace of mind of a contract ... I don’t know if I can be happy coming to work knowing that I should have been a free agent twice. Besides the money, just the sense of security ... I have a family, I want to know where I am going to live next year.”

Cofield’s first option and dream scenario is to remain a Giant and sign a lucrative contract. Cofield has repeatedly praised the Giants organization for handling these types of situations with class and he hopes to work things out with general manager Jerry Reese. If he can't stay for a multi-year deal, Cofield would like to be able to pursue the best possible deal elsewhere, or a trade.

Last year, the Giants nearly traded Cofield to the Saints in a draft-day deal that stalled when the defensive tackle and the Saints could not come to an agreement.

Last month the Giants drafted North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin in the second round. He joins a crowd that already includes Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard and last year’s second-round pick, Linval Joseph.

“It definitely does make you think that maybe they are preparing for life without me,” Cofield said. “It gave me kind of a sense of closure ... a sense that maybe it is time for me to move on.”

Unfortunately for Cofield, all he has right now is time as he continues to wait, his fate in the hands of the owners, the former Players Association and lawyers.

“I would love to be back with the Giants,” Cofield said. “Hopefully we can work out a long-term deal. That would definitely be my first choice, but you don't always get to script it."
KolbDoug Benc/Getty ImagesKevin Kolb has no idea if he's going to remain in Philadelphia or be traded.
The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:

Kevin Kolb does not want to be a problem, and he surely never sought to become a face of the NFL lockout. But while most NFL players are just waiting to be told when to go back to work at their respective teams' facilities, Kolb finds himself in a more complex and uncertain situation. He wants to know where he's going to work. He wants to know where he's going to live. And he wants to know how much he's going to get to play.

"You could keep going down the questions. There's a list of questions," Kolb told reporters when he showed up for a workout last week with other Eagles players in South Jersey. "Nobody knows the answers."

A year ago, Kolb was the talk of Philadelphia. With Donovan McNabb traded out of town, he was the heir apparent and the starting quarterback. But he got hurt in the first game, Michael Vick replaced him and the rest is electrified Eagles history. By the end of the season, Vick was the man and Kolb let it be known that he would appreciate it if the Eagles would trade him somewhere so he could get a shot at being a starter again.

Instead of telling him "no," the Eagles decided to test the Kolb market. They found that teams were interested. So at this point, Kolb has reason to believe that he might get his wish. He even told of a text message he got from head coach Andy Reid during a break in the lockout that said, "I'll do what's best for you."

But while that text may have made him hopeful, it didn't answer any questions. Kolb still doesn't know where he'll be playing, where he'll be living or whether he's going to be a starter or a backup in 2011. And there's no way for him to know until the lockout is over.

"Does anybody know right now? It's kind of radio silence, it seems like," Kolb said. "I just don't want to get my mind set on one thing or one team or one place to live, and then something different happens."

Word is, as you've surely heard, Arizona is interested. But that's no done deal, and the longer the lockout goes, the more the Cardinals and other potential Kolb suitors may have to scale back and make other plans. Kolb could end up staying in Philly -- a possibility he's considered.

"I want my opportunity. If the situation can't be avoided, I'm not going to sit there and be a turd," he said. "That's not my style. I think that I've voiced my opinion, and there's nothing more I can do. Just like always, whatever situation arises, I'll just have to roll with the punches."

Right now, all he wants to know is which way to roll.

Faces of lockout: Bears camp bar owner

June, 1, 2011
The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:

Situated across Highway 45/52, and tucked conveniently next to the campus of Olivet Nazarene University -- host of Chicago Bears training camp since 2002 -- T.J. Donlins fills quicker than its bartenders can pour a pint once the sun goes down over Bourbonnais, a town of 19,119 located 50 miles south of Chicago.

Bears Bar
Courtesy of T.J. DonlinsBusiness typically more than doubles at T.J. Donlins during training camp.
The bar’s co-owner, Tom Richmond, estimates business picks up 2 1/2 times its normal pace in late July during training camp. But with no end in sight to this NFL lockout, camp is in serious jeopardy.

So is business at T.J. Donlins.

“Business is flat going into [training camp], but that’s normal,” Richmond said. “We do a nice bit during the three weeks they’re here; we love them. Unfortunately, this will affect us directly. Camp is a nice spike that we have come to kind of depend on. Being a small business, it helps quite a bit. So everybody here has their fingers crossed. We hope it happens -- this lockout ends.”

Football fans in the know smartly cram into T.J. Donlins during camp to cool off with beer specials, which begin at $1, and go up to the $2 Killian’s pints on Tuesdays. More appealing than the cheap beer, though, is the sightseeing.

On any given night, a few coaches, players and scouts come in, graciously sign autographs, and mingle with patrons. Some hang out on the back patio deck to team up with locals for games of bag toss.

Richmond said the training-camp traffic results in additional business during the season from travelers who had visited over the summer.

“The Bears have been so good to the fans. The first year or two, it was testy because they were such a novelty,” Richmond said. “People bothered them to the point they couldn’t even sit down. Over the last seven years, it’s been good. They come out en masse sometimes. They’re courteous and will give plenty of autographs.”

Those good vibes could end soon though. Richmond, who opened the bar in 1983, knows business will continue regardless of the lockout’s outcome. Still, he’s hoping to not have to find out what life sans training camp entails.

“Every bar in America has the NFL on their screen on Sundays. So I know there’s a lot of stuff revolving around this for a lot of people, especially us,” Richmond said. “I just hope they all come to a happy agreement.”
Harold NashCourtesy of the New England Patriots Harold Nash is still waiting to make an impact as New England's head strength and conditioning coach.
The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:

Most would agree that all NFL coaches have their work cut out for them because of the lockout. Getting rookies up to speed quickly is going to be an immense challenge once the time comes to play football.

For Harold Nash, some might say the challenge is doubled.

Not only is the 41-year-old Nash in his first season as the Patriots’ head strength and conditioning coach, he also assists in the coordination of the team’s player-development programs that help rookies transition to the NFL.

At a time like this, Nash would be establishing a foundation for the type of strength program he planned to oversee in taking over for Mike Woicik, who held the position the past 11 years and owns six Super Bowl rings (three with Dallas in the 1990s, three with New England in the 2000s). He’d also be influencing this year’s rookie class through his work in player-development programs, which are considered Super Bowl quality in NFL circles.

The Patriots’ financial education program was recognized as the NFL’s best three times in the previous four years. In 2009-2010, the club was recognized with the Outstanding Overall Player Development Award.

Each year, the NFL presents awards to teams' player development departments in the areas of financial education, continuing education, career development and life skills. The Outstanding Overall Player Development Award honors the club that excels most in all four areas.

But when there’s a lockout, the opportunities for player development are locked out, too.

As for Nash, he has the type of background in football that Patriots coach Bill Belichick appreciates. He walked on at the University of Southwestern Louisiana and played defensive back for four seasons, ultimately being named a team captain and earning the Cajun Spring Training Award from the coaching staff in recognition of his work ethic.

Nash signed with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in 1993, before landing in the Canadian Football League, where he played from 1994-2004 and was a three-time all-star. During his CFL career, Nash was an assistant to speed coach Tom Shaw, helping college defensive backs in preparation for the NFL draft.

Nash joined the Patriots as an assistant strength and conditioning coach in 2005, and after six seasons in that role, he was promoted this offseason.

But because of the lockout, Nash hasn’t yet had the chance to fully make his mark.