NFL Nation: lockout

AFC North Stock Watch

August, 22, 2011
8/22/11
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Week 2 of the preseason is in the books for the AFC North division. Let's see who's stock is rising and falling.

Falling

1. Cincinnati Bengals' starters: Cincinnati's first team is getting hammered in the preseason. The Bengals are being outscored 41-10 in the first half when starters get a majority of playing time. That is inexcusable for the preseason. Starting slow is a habit the Bengals need to break. This team is too inexperience and not good enough this year to overcome these kind of deficits in the regular season.

Dalton
Dalton
2. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton: Cincinnati's second-round pick added two more interceptions Sunday night against New York. One interception was a drop and deflection from receiver A.J. Green, and the second was a pass that sailed too high. Dalton also had a poor exchange with tailback Cedric Benson that resulted in a fumble and a 17-yard loss. The growing pains continue for Dalton. He threw for 86 yards, two interceptions and had a 16.4 passer rating against the Jets.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line: Via injuries and inconsistent play, the Steelers' offensive line remains a work in progress. Two left tackles -- Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert -- both went down with injuries in Pittsburgh's 24-14 preseason win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Pittsburgh's offensive line also is having trouble keeping players off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He played well but was sacked twice and hit several more times by Philadelphia.

Rising

1. Steelers' defense: Pittsburgh's first-team defense looked in midseason form with a healthy Troy Polamalu in the lineup. The Steelers baffled Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and forced three interceptions. Pittsburgh treated the first half like a regular-season game and was fast and physical. The Steelers return all 11 starters from last year, which is extremely valuable following the NFL lockout.

McCoy
McCoy
2. Browns quarterback Colt McCoy: Cleveland's second-year quarterback continued his solid preseason with a three-touchdown performance against the Detroit Lions. McCoy didn't throw for many yards (96). But he ran the offense efficiently for the second straight week.

3. Ravens receiver Lee Evans: It was a successful Ravens debut for Evans, who was recently acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills. He tied for the team lead with three catches for 68 yards in Baltimore's 31-13 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. The biggest play came on a hookup between Flacco and Evans for 43 yards. But Evans not only showed deep speed, he showed versatility. Evans' two other receptions came on a quick slant and out route for first downs.

How NFL lockout was good for the game

August, 4, 2011
8/04/11
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Recently retired Arizona Cardinals fullback Jason Wright follows his piece on lockout implications for rookies with thoughts on how the lockout was ultimately good for the game.

The National Football League lockout was like a long Midwest winter, the kind that makes people save money for a home in Arizona.

Conflicting court decisions, leverage-minded press releases and false leads on resolution made the NFL skies appear grayer and grayer.

[+] EnlargeDeMaurice Smith and Roger Goodell
Evan Habeeb/US PresswireThe leadership of DeMaurice Smith and Roger Goodell was essential in navigating the NFL lockout.
The lockout’s end has brought the same enthusiasm as the first sunny day of spring. Players are excitedly returning to the game like kids on the first day of Pop Warner practice. Owners are elated that the money will indeed be rolling in by the bucket-loads again. Team employees are glad that same money will put food on their families’ tables. And the fans are feasting on a frenzied free-agency period and a quick start to actual football!

In retrospect, the lockout was not all bad. I believe there was a shiny silver lining in its gloomy reign over pro football. I believe the game is now healthier than ever and a robust framework is in place to prevent another nasty offseason battle from materializing. Now that the lockout has ended, there is an argument that it was “good” in a number of ways.

Valuable lessons

Owners and players have worked successfully together for years in a special employer/employee relationship; special because of the unique position of the players (a super-employee of sorts that is resource, labor, and final product combined). Both sides likely thought they were familiar with their counterparts, but the lockout allowed the parties to truly become acquainted.

Owners learned that the players were more strategically and intellectually gifted than expected. They also learned that strong labor leadership could produce player solidarity even in the individualist era of pro football. Likewise, players found that the owners didn’t become wealthy by chance: they DO NOT play when it comes to the balance sheet. While players will never know if the league was truly hemorrhaging funds, they did learn that the NFL will do what it takes to ensure that all owners feel comfortable investing in the growth of America’s game.

Call it what you will, but as a businessperson, you must respect it.

More personal in character were the opportunities for growth in individual players. While the NFLPA has always produced an intelligent, business-savvy player board, the average player hasn’t always been so conversant in the particulars of sports business. He certainly is now. Additionally, not knowing when the next paycheck will arrive allowed many players to get a feel for how they will have to live when they enter the “real world” after football. It is my hope that this will prevent the current crop of NFL athletes from following the disastrous financial paths walked by many former players.

Leaders coming of age

From my arm’s length view, the heads of both the NFL and the NFLPA earned their stripes (and their paychecks) during this lockout. DeMaurice Smith always carried a charismatic presence. It’s why the player board elected him NFLPA chief a few years back even though he was the out-of-nowhere candidate. He turned out to be not only a dynamic speaker, but a visionary strategist.

Although things didn’t go perfectly according to plan, his vision proved resilient and he was able to successfully steer the players home. His transparency with players was a new development in NFLPA conduct that, in my opinion, kept players from fracturing as the going got tough. His openness certainly converted this long-time union cynic to cautious-but-serious supporter. I am not nearly as familiar with Commissioner Goodell, but nonetheless give him credit for picking up the mantle of leadership. Getting the owners of 32 teams, in 32 unique markets, with 32 specific needs to coalesce is no small task.

Add to that the fact that owners are brilliant businessmen, confident in their respective business track records, and the commissioner’s work deserves a standing ovation.

Because these two men were made stronger through the lockout’s rigors, the business state of the game has been likewise strengthened.

Football is now truly a business

Most importantly, the way in which the NFL and the NFLPA interact over the Collective Bargaining Agreement is forever changed. Under the leadership of Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw, collective bargaining got done, in large part, through the conduit of their friendship. It appears they each fully trusted that the other was able and willing to steer his constituents in the best direction for the long-term health of the game. They trusted one another to do this without screwing the other side over in the many dirty details of the negotiation.

Their respective constituencies had faith in their leaders to handle business this way.

As they opted out of the former CBA, owners claimed that the two men had a gentlemen’s agreement that the deal would be re-done at some point. If true, this is a case-in-point. This “golf buddy” method of doing business works rather smoothly. It is, however, completely dependent on the friendship of the two men at the top. Because of the nasty rhetoric voiced during the 2011 lockout, the relationship of players and ownership will likely never be like this again. There is now a mildly adversarial tension between the two groups expressed in a healthy distrust of one another. I believe this is a good thing.

I’ve done business with friends many times and my attention to detail in those partnerships has been, admittedly, sloppier than usual. Because I had established a level of trust with them, I didn’t flesh out all the details. I foolishly figured we could adjust things later if an issue arose. As a result, most of these endeavors came back to bite me in some way. The times I’ve done business with strangers, especially hyper-aggressive stereotypical business types, I was certain I’d closed every possible loophole and fully evaluated risk. Heck, I’d even had industry-specific experts sign off on the contract language. As a result, there were no surprises and far less drama as these ventures played out. This is the better way to do business.

The meticulousness that comes with an atmosphere of distrust produces sound business transactions and lasting agreements. I believe this is why there is now a decade-long CBA for which neither side seriously sought an opt-out clause. Both sides have checked every corner of fine print, read every footnote, are fully aware of their respective “wins” and “losses,” and are comfortable with them moving forward. As long as the two groups remain cordial but don’t go back to being “buddy-buddy” labor partners, this is likely the stability we’ll see from here on out. And for everyone who cares about the game of pro football, this is a very good byproduct of a very bad NFL offseason. Here’s to the sunny days that lie ahead.
The pending NFL labor agreement calls for player reporting dates Wednesday and Friday. Which teams would report when? Let's do the math.

Wednesday lines up with the long-established 15-day period between reporting and when 10 teams begin playing their first exhibition games.

Using that 15-day buffer, we can reasonably deduce that teams playing games on Aug. 11 could begin reporting Wednesday. Thursday would make sense for teams opening Aug. 12. Friday would make sense for teams opening Aug. 13. Sunday would make sense for the two teams playing Aug. 15.

The 15-day window suggests the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals would be among those teams reporting Wednesday. The San Francisco 49ers would report Thursday. The St. Louis Rams would report Friday. None of this is official. It's just logical.

I'll list below team-by-team dates for exhibition openers, as listed by the NFL:
  • Aug. 11: Jacksonville, New England, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Diego, Denver, Dallas, Arizona, Oakland.
  • Aug. 12: Miami, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington, San Francisco, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Kansas City.
  • Aug. 13: Green Bay, Cleveland, New York Giants, Carolina, Buffalo, Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Minnesota, Tennessee.
  • Aug. 15: New York Jets, Houston.

The 15-day period has been standard operating procedure in the NFL for years, and reports suggest that will not change. The previous labor agreement read, in part:
"No veteran player other than quarterbacks and injured players will be required to report to a Club's official pre-season training camp earlier than fifteen days (including one day for physical examinations) prior to its first scheduled pre-season game."

No players of any kind could begin reporting before Wednesday under the current timeline, so the part about quarterbacks and injured players would not seem to apply if it carried over from the previous agreement.

The earlier a team can report, the more time that team will have to prepare for Week 1 of the regular season. Playing exhibition openers Aug. 11 works in the Seahawks' and Cardinals' favor for these purposes. The Rams, once scheduled to open with the Hall of Fame game on Aug. 7, would report slightly later than their division rivals.

ESPN's John Clayton says NFL owners and players made "significant progress" Saturday toward finishing a 10-year labor agreement.

This story, attributed to Clayton and Chris Mortensen, has the latest details.

This news affirms the feeling that the sides have been close and that the remaining issues were mainly procedural. It's not yet clear when free agency would open, but Clayton says the league is considering July 30 -- one week from today.

Clock ticks louder for Rams, Bears

July, 19, 2011
7/19/11
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The already endangered Aug.7 exhibition opener featuring the recently anointed 2014-16 NFC West favorite St. Louis Rams is on shakier ground.

ESPN's Adam Schefter says the Rams will report for training camp no earlier than July 26, three days later than scheduled, according to a source. And that is a best-case scenario featuring a relatively quick resolution to the NFL lockout.

The previous labor agreement prevented teams from opening camps more than 15 days prior to the first exhibition game, counting one day for physical examinations. Holding the Hall of Fame game between the Rams and Chicago Bears on Aug. 7 would give the Rams 13 days to prepare, including time required for travel.

Teams will also need time to sign players in free agency and fill out their rosters.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is one of the most influential players in the NFL. But until his recent interview with ESPN's Sal Paolantonio, Lewis had not commented publicly on the league's work stoppage.

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis
AP Photo/Amy SancettaRay Lewis' motivational skills may be just what is needed to move labor talks forward.
Lewis has a unique perspective on the troubles between the NFL and NFLPA. He believes huge egos from both sides are getting in the way and crime could rise in our country if a full season is lost.

"Do this research if we don't have a season," Lewis told Paolantonio. "Watch how much evil -- which we call it crime -- watch how much crime picks up if you take away our game."

Lewis has not participated in mediation sessions but said the "time is coming." Could Lewis be the right voice to help end the lockout?

The future Hall of Famer is well-respected on many different levels. Lewis is closely in tune with the players and common fans, while his name and star power also are enough to grab the owners' attention. This might be the proper combination to bring the two sides closer together.

Lewis' intense pre-game speeches to help motivate the Ravens have become famous to football fans. But if Lewis can find a way to motivate the owners and NFLPA to put pride aside and reach a new collective bargaining agreement this summer, it could be Lewis' biggest speech of all.
Don't bother reaching out to Arizona Cardinals employees next week.

They'll be out of the office -- on furloughs.

As ESPN's Adam Schefter reports, the team will institute long-planned cost-cutting measures that have become common around the NFL during the ongoing lockout.

Teams do not make financial records available available, complicating efforts to find out whether these measures are truly necessary. Some teams could be acting prudently in tough times. Others could be using the lockout as an excuse to increase profits at the expense of their employees.

The Cardinals' measures are not particularly unusual. The New York Jets, for instance, have instituted one-week furloughs every month.

But the Cardinals' long-standing reputation for frugality -- let's face it, they were known as flat-out cheap for decades -- provides context for any cost-cutting measures. These furloughs threaten to reinforce an image the organization has tried to shake since opening a new stadium in 2006.

Troy Polamalu's time well spent

May, 14, 2011
5/14/11
12:09
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Similar to his great instincts on the field, Pittsburgh Steelers safety and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu is staying two steps ahead during the lockout off the field.

While many players are scrambling and trying to figure out what to do with their free time, Polamalu returned to USC this semester and earned a history degree at his alma mater. Polamalu, 30, didn't complete all of his credits before being drafted by the Steelers in 2003 but utilized the lockout to do so eight years and two Super Bowl titles later.

"I decided to finish what I started and walked that stage today not only because it was very important to me personally, but because I want to emphasize the importance of education, and that nothing should supersede it," Polamalu said.

In addition to Polamalu, other AFC North players have found interesting ways to pass the time during this extended lockout, which started in March.

Steelers teammate Hines Ward is doing well on "Dancing With The Stars." Baltimore Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski registered two knockouts as a professional boxer, and Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco tried pro soccer and will ride a bull this weekend.
With the NFL draft only a little over 72 hours away, things just might have gotten a lot more complicated and, in some ways, more simplistic.

Chris Mortensen reports that a judge has granted a motion for a preliminary injunction in favor of the players, who have been locked out by owners since March. Mortensen also reports the NFL is expected to file a request for an immediate stay of the order.

We’ll leave that up to the legal community to sort out. But this could mean the end of the lockout and that’s going to make things very interesting if it officially takes place before the draft. Potentially, an end to the lockout could open the door for player trades and free agency. Both of those areas have been frozen throughout the lockout.

I talked to Carolina general manager Marty Hurney a few minutes before the news broke and he said the Panthers still haven’t made a final decision on what they’ll do with the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday night’s draft. Hurney said the Carolina scouts were in today for a series of meetings and there will be more meetings with coaches tomorrow.

Hurney also said he wasn’t sure if the Panthers would wait until they're on the clock Thursday night or indicate their plans before that. But I’ve got a feeling that if the lockout is indeed lifted, the Panthers absolutely will wait until they’re on the clock to show their intentions.

They’d be foolish not to. If players suddenly are available to be included in trades, the Panthers could be getting some phone calls they probably should at least listen to.
Football Outsiders has an Insider post saying that the lockout actually could help Green Bay’s chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions.

The article also mentions the Giants, Steelers, Seahawks and Patriots as other teams that could benefit from the lockout. I’m not going to dispute any of that. But, as I said in this post back at the start of the lockout, I think the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons belong on any list of teams that might benefit from a lengthy lockout.

Let’s start with the Saints. Yeah, they’ve got a long list of potential free agents, some who may be restricted and some who may be unrestricted. But you have to figure general manager Mickey Loomis has plans to keep most of the key guys. New Orleans also has a veteran coaching staff -- Sean Payton now is the dean of NFC South coaches -- that is largely intact. This is also a team with a lot of veteran players who know how to win.

But, more than anything, I think the Saints would be just fine if they miss most of the offseason and even part of training camp for one simple reason. Drew Brees could sleep, play golf and negotiate a new labor deal all summer and still roll out of bed on a Sunday in September and throw for 350 yards and four touchdowns.

The Falcons are pretty similar. They’re coming off a 13-3 season and Mike Smith, his coaching staff and system are now very entrenched. Atlanta has a nice mix of veterans and young players. And, most importantly, I think Matt Ryan could roll out of bed on a Sunday in September and throw for 275 yards and three touchdowns.

As I mentioned in the March article, I think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers have a lot more to lose in a lengthy lockout. They were the two-youngest teams in the league last year and both are committed to their youth movements. The Bucs were very much on the rise last season, but they still need some practice time together, although I do think Josh Freeman has the ability to cushion some of that blow.

The Panthers are in an even tougher spot. New coach Ron Rivera needs the offseason time to install his system and get familiar with his players. Let’s take it a step further and say the Panthers take Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the first overall pick in next week’s draft. And let’s say the lockout wipes out all of the offseason workouts and most of training camp. In that scenario, Newton won’t even be able to look at a Carolina playbook until the lockout ends.

Anybody think Jimmy Clausen can roll out of bed on a September morning and go out and throw for 75 yards and three interceptions?
As ugly as it has been, the NFL lockout really hasn’t hit players in the wallet so far. That’s because, for the most part, players get paid only during the season.

The way it works is base salaries are paid in 17 checks (including the bye week) during the course of the regular season. That means no player is missing a regular paycheck until September, if the lockout lasts that long.

We’ve run through the handful of workout bonuses in the division that could be impacted. But the players haven’t lost that money yet because offseason workouts for most teams weren’t scheduled to start until later in March or early in April.

[+] EnlargeSean Weatherspoon
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIBefore the lockout, Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was slated to collect a roster bonus of $3.8 million on March 4.
But there are a handful of guys in the NFC South -- and all of them are pretty big names -- who actually have been hit hard by the lockout already. I just took a look at contract information for all four teams and looked at roster bonuses, which generally are payable on the first day of the league year. That was scheduled to be March 4, but the labor situation has prevented the lockout from starting.

So far, the biggest (financial) losers in the lockout are Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman and New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins. Each of the three already would have received a check for well over $3 million by now if the league year had started.

Weatherspoon was scheduled for a $3.8 million roster bonus. Freeman and Jenkins each were scheduled to get checks for $3.15 million. Some other prominent players around the division who have large roster bonuses are Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez ($2 million), Tampa Bay’s Earnest Graham ($1.15 million) and Brian Price ($510,000) and New Orleans’ Patrick Robinson ($391,000).

The other guy in this mix is New Orleans running back Pierre Thomas, who signed a four-year contract shortly before the lockout started. The Saints didn’t give Thomas a traditional signing bonus, but structured his deal to include a $2.7 million roster bonus.

This isn’t lost money because the players will get their roster bonuses as soon as a labor agreement is reached and a new league year officially kicks off. There also is the chance there could be legal action to seek workout bonuses and roster bonuses if the lockout lingers. The theory, among several agents, is that this is money the players are under contract for, but the NFL has prevented them from earning it by locking them out.

Like I said, the players probably will get their roster bonuses at some point. But wouldn’t you like to have picked up Weatherspoon’s check or Freeman’s check back on March 4 and already have collected a few weeks of interest?

Oh, one last thing. In preparing for a lockout long before anyone else, Carolina owner Jerry Richardson and general manager Marty Hurney made sure roster bonuses aren't an issue for the Panthers. Carolina's contract numbers show there's not a single player scheduled to earn a roster bonus in 2011.
A lot of people are calling the NFL labor situation a battle of billionaires versus millionaires. There’s some truth in that, and it can be hard to feel much sympathy when you’re talking about a league that has made billions of dollars in recent years and many players who have made millions of dollars.

[+] EnlargeStephen Nicholas
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesFalcons linebacker Stephen Nicholas is among the many NFL players stuck in limbo because of the work-stoppage.
But there are some “little’’ people involved in this and those are the ones who deserve sympathy. With that in mind, I just called Atlanta Falcons linebacker Stephen Nicholas. As you may recall, he has a unique family situation. His son, Stephen Jr. , had a heart transplant as an infant. Stephen Jr. is 3 now and doing just fine -- I could hear him loud and clear in the background as his father and I talked.

When the league locked out players last week, benefits, including insurance, stopped. That might not be all that big a deal for many players who are young, healthy and single. But think about getting insurance for your family when you have a child who has had major medical issues.

“It’s a challenge,’’ Nicholas said. “But my wife and financial advisor did a good job preparing for this, because we knew for a long time there was the possibility of a lockout. We’ve got insurance. It’s expensive, but it’s not unbearable.’’

Nicholas didn’t want to get into the exact cost of the insurance and said the lockout has yet to fully hit home.

“If you just go by the calendar, there aren’t a lot of big differences right now,’’ Nicholas said. “This is the time of year when you usually work out on your own and spend time with your family. The end of March is when the (organized team activities start), and it will be weird if there still is a lockout. It will be even more weird if they have a draft and there’s still a lockout. How can you draft and not know what you have on your team?’’

Nicholas said he’s optimistic a labor agreement can be reached before long, but he admits he -- and a lot of other players -- are facing uncertain futures. Nicholas has four years of service in the NFL and doesn’t have a contract for 2011. Depending on the structure of any potential labor agreement, Nicholas could be an unrestricted free agent, which would allow him to sign with any team, or a restricted free agent, meaning the Falcons would have a chance to match offers from other teams.

Nicholas said his agent was told the Falcons were placing a restricted tender on him. But it remains to be seen if that tender will be valid in a new labor agreement.

“It’s out of my control,’’ Nicholas said. “All I can do is work out and wait and hope that things get worked out before too long.’’
The lockout is potentially bad news for Carson Palmer.

Palmer
The Cincinnati Bengals' franchise quarterback, who demanded to be traded this offseason, remains in a holding pattern until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. The Bengals have held firm in saying they will not trade Palmer. But even if Cincinnati wanted to entertain offers, it couldn't.

Palmer's chances of playing for another team in 2011 would decrease if a new CBA isn't reached before the draft April 28. Draft picks are one of the league's biggest forms of currency. Cincinnati already is leery about trading Palmer. But if the Bengals can't get quality picks this year in exchange for their starting quarterback, they may just keep Palmer on the roster.

The only trade options for Cincinnati after the draft would be for future picks and/or players. Neither are attractive options for the rebuilding Bengals (4-12). Future picks do not help the team this upcoming season, and the Bengals probably cannot get equal value for Palmer in a player-for-player deal.

Palmer has threatened to retire if he isn't traded. If the lockout goes beyond April, there's a good chance Cincinnati could call Palmer's bluff.
If NFL players succeed in their attempt to have the lockout lifted by the legal system, the pool of unrestricted free agents is going to get a lot smaller than expected.

Mark Maske reports the league would invoke a system in which players with expired contracts and less than six years of service would not be eligible for unrestricted free agency. For example, Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams, who has five years of service and no current contract, would be a restricted free agent. The Panthers already prepared for that possibility by sending Williams notice of a tender.

On the flip side, players like Tampa Bay linebacker Barrett Ruud, who has played six season and is not under contract, would be eligible for unrestricted free agency.

If the lockout is lifted, there will be no salary cap, just like in 2010. Teams also will be given one extra franchise or transition tag.
If you’d like to see the letter teams sent to players outlining what a lockout means to them, head here.

The NFLPA’s web site is now NFLLockout.com. That page shares what the league sent the players leadership in advance of the lockout.

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