by Jared Smola
Let's face it -- the lockout sucks. Instead of breaking down free-agent signings, trade rumors, and draft news, we're being forced to listen to the owners and the players spew half-truths and defamatory remarks. Disgusting.
The only real winners here are the lawyers on both sides who are racking up the billable hours.
The losers? There are plenty of them. Owners are losing money, coaches aren't getting to work with their players, and players aren't able to train at their teams' facilities. And then there's Fantasy Footballers -- stuck in the middle of it all.
With the lockout in place, free-agency can't begin and trades can't happen. In short, GMs are just sitting on their hands.
But if the players win their lawsuit and are granted an injunction to block the owners from locking them out, the 2011 league year will begin. And for all intents and purposes -- at least from an on-field perspective -- it'd be business as usual. The free-agency period would begin and the trade market would open.
The motion for an injunction is no sure thing though. And if the players lose their case, this lockout could easily go deep into the summer. There's even a chance that there won't be any free-agency at all this year.
It's bad news all around. But it's even worse for teams that are breaking in new coaches, new QBs, or trying to work the trade market. Here are 7 teams that are being hurt most by the work stoppage:
1. St. Louis Rams – The Rams are in a good spot. They have a franchise QB in Sam Bradford and an improving offensive line led by C Jason Brown and OTs Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith. There’s still plenty of work to be done though. The WR position is a major question mark, with guys like Danario Alexander, Laurent Robinson, Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola, and Mardy Gilyard battling for playing time. And then there’s Mark Clayton and Donnie Avery, who are both recovering from serious injuries. There could be a 1st-round rookie thrown into the mix too. It’s a mess, and the Rams can’t even start to sort it out until the league year begins and teams are allowed to work out together again. If OTAs are canceled this spring, St. Louis will head into training camp with a lot of questions to be answered in a short period of time. Further complicating the situation is the arrival of new OC Josh McDaniels, an offensive mastermind who runs a complicated system. Bradford needs as much time as possible on the field to get comfortable in the new scheme. The longer this work stoppage goes, the further behind this Rams offense falls.
2. Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles are sitting on a goldmine. His name is Kevin Kolb. And it sounds like teams are willing to throw all sorts of draft picks at Philly to get their hands on him. ESPN’s Adam Schefter says multiple teams have contacted the Eagles about Kolb’s availability. And Sports Illustrated’s Peter King hears that a team has already offered up 1st-round pick (probably Seattle with the 25th overall pick). In a normal year, Philly could be hosting a bidding war right now – pitting teams against each other to drive Kolb’s price higher and higher. But this lockout has their hands tied. And if it runs into May, the Eagles lose their chance at picking up draft picks in this April’s NFL Draft. They’d be forced to settle for 2012 picks. What’s worse is that Kolb’s perceived value may be dropping with each passing day. Teams want as much time as possible to work with their new QB and get him acclimated to the offense. They can’t do that as long as the players are locked out.
3. Washington Redskins – Like the Eagles, the ‘Skins are being forced to sit on a tradable asset. Granted, Donovan McNabb isn’t nearly as valuable on the open market as Kevin Kolb. But the same basic principles apply. McNabb clearly isn’t a part of Washington’s long-term plans, and he’s losing value with each day that he’s unable to start picking up a new offense. And Washington would much rather add a 2011 draft pick than have to wait until 2012 to cash in. Plus, unlike the Eagles, the Redskins may be eyeing a rookie signal-caller in the 1st-round of April’s draft. But the situation gets a lot more complicated if they still have McNabb – and his monster contract – sitting on the roster.
4. Carolina Panthers – Not a good year to have the #1 overall pick. It sounds like Carolina is leaning towards a QB – either Auburn’s Cam Newton or Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert. There’s a good chance that the guy they go with will be under center when Week 1 rolls around. But he’ll be even further behind the 8-ball than most rookie QBs if he can’t start working with his WRs and learning the offense. Plus, remember that teams can’t negotiate contracts with players as of now. That includes rookies. So even when the lockout ends, the Panthers will need to hash out a contract with their pick. That could take weeks. Add in the fact that Carolina is breaking in a new HC in Ron Rivera, and it’s pretty clear that 2010’s worst team isn’t getting any better while this lockout is in effect.
5. Tennessee Titans – It’s a Triple Whammy for the Titans. They’ve vowed to get rid of QB Vince Young. And while he’ll likely just end up being released, Tennessee can’t even think about trying to trade him right now. Nor can they tap into the free-agent market to find VY’s replacement. A guy like Carson Palmer or Kyle Orton would fit nicely in Tennessee. But it’s looking like the Titans will head into the draft with Rusty Smith atop their QB depth chart. They’ve been heavily-linked to Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, but he could be gone by the time they pick 8th overall. Tennessee’s QB situation could be mighty ugly in 2011. To make matters worse, new HC Mike Munchak and OC Chris Palmer are missing out on much-needed time to start implementing their playbooks.
6. San Francisco 49ers – Not only do the Niners have a new HC, they have a new HC who is making his NFL debut. Jim Harbaugh has a big adjustment to make as he moves from Stanford to San Francisco. But his contact with his new players has been cut off. They’ll have a lot of catching up to do when this lockout ends. Harbaugh also has a QB decision to make. He’s had nothing but good things to say about Alex Smith since taking the job. But c’mon – it’s Alex Smith. We’re fairly certain that Harbaugh would like to upgrade his QB situation. With free-agency frozen, though, the only way he can do that is through the draft. And there’s no guarantee that either Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert will be available when the Niners pick 7th overall.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Bucs don’t have a new HC. And they don’t have a QB they’re looking to deal away. But what they do have is a young roster that was building momentum throughout the 2010 season. And that progress is being halted during this lockout. QB Josh Freeman, RB LeGarrette Blount, and WR Mike Williams form one of the most promising offensive cores in the league. But they still have plenty of growing to do. Together. If the lockout prevents OTAs, it’s fair to question how these guys will be impacted by over 6 months with no football together. And can Williams and Blount stay out of trouble with all that free time?