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Fortunately for football fans, we all can at least look forward to this highly anticipated NFL Draft. However, this year’s Draft will be slightly different. This year, unlike a normal NFL year, once players are drafted by their respective NFL franchises, they are unable to sign any contracts. Additionally, while not getting paid, these players cannot do any football related activities at their team facilities as well. This can be detrimental to an incoming player if not given the maximum amount of time to start learning the playbook, working with new teammates, and adapting to an entirely different game then they played in college. If this lockout continues into the summer or even the season, don’t be surprised to see young players struggle on the field early and often.
Now, what would the 2011 Draft in the midst of a league lockout be without controversy, right? On March 15th, the story broke that the NFL Players Association, now just a trade association whose mission is to support the interests of both current and former NFL players, has been asking the top 15-20 prospects to reject the NFL’s invitation to walk the stage and shake Roger Goodell’s hand after being drafted.
The NFLPA’s plan is to have the prospects boycott the draft and will provide these players with a similar experience across the street potentially. There have also been talks of competing with the NFL’s live draft coverage on ESPN by having a different network cover the NFLPA’s version of the draft with the prospects. How this all plays out is still up in the air but it’s a very interesting development that will make for some good TV. One thing is certain, the NFL’s league spokesman Greg Aiello has gone on the record to state that whatever the NFLPA decides to do, the NFL will still send out invitations to the top prospects and their families to attend this event.
This has made for a very interesting discussion the past week and half. It seems that everybody has an opinion on the topic. Some individuals, like Tedy Bruschi, who is now a football analyst for ESPN and former Super Bowl Champion with the New England Patriots is in favor of the NFLPA’s plan to have the top prospects boycott the draft.
Bruschi on numerous televised programs has argued that such a move would continue to show strength and unity between the players, which is something they need to maintain during the lockout. Bruschi acknowledges that this is a tough predicament for these rookies to be in, but stresses the importance that all players, whether former, current, or future, must all be on the same page. It’s reasonable to see where Bruschi is coming from. How are the current players supposed to gel and work well with the rookies once football operations eventually begin if they are not willing to show their commitment to the former and current player’s stance at this time? The same commitment and mission that they will soon be a part of once drafted.
Another individual with a similar opinion on the topic is Mark Schlereth, current ESPN football analyst and former Super Bowl Champion with the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins. Schlereth brings up a valid point when discussing the topic on the hit ESPN show NFL Live soon after the story broke. He points out that the NFL will make so much money off these kids for their appearances at the Draft and their participation with interviews during the event but asks what will the rookies get in return? Not too much. While they will have the memories, it’s the NFL that will benefit off this televised event the most. They are the guys who locked them out which keeps these rookies from signing a lucrative contract with a team and getting paid. These rookies are the ones who as mentioned before, won’t be able to get in the training facilities and work with their new teammates and coaches as early as possible to prepare for the grueling season they are about to embark on.
What’s even worse is the NFL wants to impose a rookie wage scale capping off how much these rookies can make on their initial rookie contract. Talk about getting the short end of the stick. These rookies are in a tough spot this year, dilemmas that no other rookies in the sport have ever had to face before.
On the other side, many individuals feel that this is bad public relations move on the part of the NFLPA. One ESPN analyst and former Head Football Coach in the NFL Herm Edwards, believes that this is a special moment for the rookies and their families and hopes that they all attend the draft in NYC. Edwards feels that it’s selfish what the NFLPA is asking these players to do. He goes on to state on an episode of NFL Live on ESPN, that if he was the parent of a son being drafted, he would tell them to go and enjoy the moment. It also appears that most NFL fans are on the same side as Edwards.
In recent polls on ESPN.com, roughly over 70% of fans believe that this is a poor move on the part of the NFLPA and disagree with it. It will be exciting to see how this major story plays out in the next month leading up to the Draft in April.
Another intriguing twist to the lockout is the current state of some of the NFLs most important policies. First, with this lockout, the NFL Personal Conduct Policy is suspended. This has been a famous policy that appears to be in the news on a regular basis because players find ways to get themselves in trouble, forcing Commissioner Goodell to punish players, usually by suspensions, on a regular basis for violating the Personal Conduct Policy. However, with the lockout, a player who violates the law is not in trouble with the NFL.
Interestingly, these players are not subject to any retroactive punishments after the lockout is over. All Roger Goodell can do is hope that players obey the law and don’t get themselves in trouble while the Personal Conduct Policy is suspended. This is wishful thinking however because as we have seen many times before, whether its Vick, Roethlisberger, Burress, or any other player, these high paid professionals are bound to get in trouble in one way or another. This will be something very interesting to follow along as time goes on.
Additionally, during the lockout the No Substance Abuse Policy is not in effect at this time as well. To make matters worse, in a profession where regulation is needed, NFL Agents are allowed to do run wild and free because there is no Regulation of Agents during the lockout. Thus, agents can poach from other agents their clients and even contact college football players in efforts to get them to sign with the agent before they even declare for the NFL draft and still in amateur standing. This can become a real mess for the NFL to have to clean up potentially and might be detrimental to a lot of kids so it’s worth keeping an eye on to see if anything happens.
With all these events going on since the lockout began, it’s hard to keep track of everything but to make matters more complicated, there has been more legal maneuvering. The NFL this past week on Monday March 21st has asked a federal judge to keep its lockout in place. The league argues that there are no legitimate legal grounds to stop the league from locking out the players once they decertified.
The league is claiming that the players are just trying to manipulate the legal system with their ridiculous antitrust lawsuit. The NFL is claiming that any decision on the validity of the lockout should be withheld until the National Labor Relations Board rules on the unfair labor practice charge the league filed against the now-dissolved players union on February 14th, in which the NFL claimed the players union failed to bargain in good faith because their intentions were to decertify all along. This charge on February 14th was later amended on March 11th to include the union’s decertification. At this time, the National Labor Relations Board has stated that the investigation is still on-going and had no further comment on the matter.
If you have been able to read through this entire article, then you should be caught up on the soap opera that is the 2011 NFL Lockout. With all the controversy, distrust, lawsuits, and intriguing stories, it will be interesting to see what happens after the dust has settled. In what has been publically labeled as a fight of “billionaires against millionaires,” this could be the sequel to the famous action movie “Faceoff” starring Nicholas Cage and John Travolta. Instead of those two stars, Faceoff Two would star NFLPA’s leader Demaurice Smith and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The same theme exists here as in the original film which is, whose the real bad guy? Whoever it is, that’s for you to decide.