Cook: Everybody loses with a lockout
Share with others:
No news is bad news. That's the only way to describe the ongoing mess that is the NFL lockout. The silence Monday from the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis was deafening and disheartening. Sadly, it didn't lift its temporary stay of the injunction won by the players in district court last week that would have ended the lockout and put the teams back in business. If it doesn't lift that stay today or at some point this week, the lockout almost certainly will continue into the summer. The big losers then won't be just the players, but football fans everywhere. The owners might even lose, too.
That's the conclusion I reached after spending the weekend at Steelers headquarters for the NFL draft. The team's scouts and coaches -- like their counterparts with all of the teams -- have serious concerns about what will happen to the game if the lockout lasts and wipes out minicamps, organized team activities and perhaps even much of training camp and the exhibition season. Remember, they're football people. They care about the product. They're not the business people who are arguing with the players over how to divide $9.5 billion in annual revenues. It's a shame the business people are making the decisions in this lockout. The football people make so much more sense to me.
There will be an NFL season in 2011, a full 16-game season, playoffs and Super Bowl XLVI. I'm convinced of that. The NFL constructed its schedule so it can start the season as late as Oct. 2 and still play every game. One day before then, the money people on both sides will wake up and realize the lunacy of throwing away billions of dollars. They are not dumb enough to allow that to happen. They will end up doing a new basic agreement.
But you know how deals are done. They never happen until both sides are going to lose something. The fear in this case is that will be late summer. There is no urgency now. The games aren't in jeopardy. So what if the teams miss out on minicamps and the OTAs? Who really cares?
You should, actually.
Assume the lockout goes until August or September. Everyone agrees the teams will need at least a brief training camp and two exhibition games to get ready for the season. That's the bare minimum. It's not nearly enough to feel good about the quality of football that will be played.
Players are working out during the lockout, but it's not the same as training under team supervision. It's human nature to slack off when no one is watching. Only the incredibly disciplined players will be in top shape to start the season. You have to wonder about the Casey Hamptons of the league. Hampton, the Steelers' big nose tackle, has battled weight problems his entire career. Will he be fully ready when the season starts? I have my doubts.
Injuries are a big concern -- and not just with the big guys. I heard predictions over the weekend of countless wide receivers and defensive backs pulling hamstrings and being forced to miss time. It's not as if they can jump into a season cold and go full blast. Absolutely there will be injuries.
That thought might not worry the owners, but what if the quarterbacks start getting hurt? Offensive tackles might need training camp and the exhibition games more than anybody to get ready. They have to be able to block blitzing linebackers. It's a skill that is honed only with repetitions in practice. A lot of repetitions.
Do you think New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft will think the lockout is worth it if Steelers linebacker James Harrison knocks out quarterback Tom Brady for the season? How about Indianapolis Colts owner James Irsay if linebacker LaMarr Woodley takes out Peyton Manning?
Backup wide receivers and cornerbacks are one thing to force on the fans. Backup quarterbacks are something much more intolerable.
Here's hoping the court rules in favor of the players this week.
I'm guessing you feel the same way.
Did you see NFL commissioner Roger Goodell get booed at draft headquarters at Radio City Music Hall in New York over the weekend? The fans there made their feelings heard. I'm convinced this is one of the few sports labor battles in which the paying customers are siding with the rich players. The players just want to keep what they have. They are not on strike. The filthy rich owners have locked them out. It is the owners who want major concessions from the players. They are hardly hurting when you consider those $9.5 billion in revenues.
Yes, there will be football in 2011.
The question is: What kind of football?
Fans of every team can root for the same thing in this dispute -- a quick end to the lockout, either negotiated or, more likely, court-ordered.
First Published May 3, 2011 12:00 am