With the talk of an 18-game schedule heightening this week, here’s how we see the lockout ending next year:
The owners and players reach a deal on or about Aug. 1. Scrape together a 10-11 day training camp. Jam in two preseason games. Be ready to go for real Sept. 10. Not only does it keep the league calendar purring despite the NFL being dark since March, it proves that the game can still be played at a high level without weeks of on-field practice.
Which is a good thing because it is looking more and more like the only way the players are going to accept an 18-game schedule is if the May and June voluntaries are drastically cut, if not eliminated, and if training camp is shortened.
“The thing with the 18-game schedule is not so much guys can’t get through it, but if you’re going to be here three months in the offseason, bodies are going to wear down,” said left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals rep to the NFL Players Association. “You’re going to have to find a way to get some of the offseason cut down. You would have more players go for it because it does generate more revenue. It does help the game as far as quality. I am for that. The problem is what it does to your body …. you’ve got to eliminate the OTAs.”
The only people who would probably gripe about that are the coaches. But remember the decade before OTAs became in vogue in the late ‘90s? You basically only one had one mandatory minicamp and the level of play didn’t seem to be impacted. Guys like Jerry Rice and Walter Payton and Anthony Munoz did OK.
And what is the spring but just six more weeks of crossing fingers that no one gets hurt in ridiculous fashion, like blowing out an ACL on the next to last play of some red-zone drill in helmets and shorts just before Memorial Day?
“Every year you have a DB tear a foot up, or hurt an ankle, or a receiver diving for a ball mess a shoulder up,” Whitworth said. “I think most players when they first hear it, wouldn’t want to play 18 games. But now you present it to a player, ‘You’re only going to be here for a month in the offseason. You’re going to have training camp for a shorter period. You’re not going to play a bunch of preseason games.’ Now it’s a totally different scenario. There’s no way to look at the players’ experience right now and add two more games to our season.”
There is some thinking that if the OTAs are cut out, there must be an expanded training camp like teams had before the spring camps.
Safety Chris Crocker doesn’t see the league giving up the offseason workouts. It’s not the ‘80s anymore, he says. It is a multi-billion dollar enterprise and that means year-round.
“I just don’t see us giving up the offseason. I can’t see it coming,” Crocker said. “This is a full-time sport. We’re still here. We still do things on the field that’s not counted as organized activities. Having OTAs is not the point. It’s being here and I don’t think guys want to be here as long. I just don’t see us winning that battle. And if we do win, who wants a longer training camp? … We’re moving backwards.”
Right now, teams can report to training camp 15 days before the first preseason game. What if most, if not all, of the OTAs were cut out, and they occurred 21 days before the first game? There would certainly be more healthy players available and they might be crisper and fresher.
That will be the interesting thing about 2011. Both Crocker and Whitworth don’t think anything will happen until it has to happen, which means late July. As Whitworth says, look at the rookie negotiations. A deadline always spurs action.
“They have to do it. If I were them, I’d probably do it, too,” said Crocker of the owners’ lockout. “They have to see if we’re going to move.”
But when? The first move comes in March when the NFL shuts down. The only thing that happens is an April draft. The second move is in late July to lock out the camps. That is what is interesting. What level of game is going to be played if there is no spring ball and a short camp? Here is a guess that by the first bye week, who is going to remember?
Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer says he’s not for the 18-game schedule because it’s going to cut down on the significance of the games. But as long as only 12 teams make the playoffs (please, no NBA or NHL) and the parity is still at a premium, teams are going to be fighting for division titles and Wild Cards at 10-8 and 9-9 instead of 9-7 and 8-8.
What the owners have to do is be sensitive to the players’ physical needs. This is a much more punishing game than even 10 years ago and certainly there is much more research.
Less is more just may be the operative term here.
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