A team-by-team look at how a continued labor impasse and extended NFL freeze on transactions would affect the division:
New York Giants: This is largely a veteran team with a veteran quarterback, Eli Manning, so missing offseason workouts shouldn’t be devastating. But the big challenge that a long labor impasse will bring to this team will be how it deals with a couple of key veterans who are coming off injuries and are not under contract.
Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (neck) and wide receiver Steve Smith (knee) would have to continue rehabilitating their injuries away from the team’s medical staff. This could mean months of not being able to gauge how Smith and Kiwanuka are progressing, and that could make it very difficult to make informed decisions. If a long labor impasse lasts beyond the draft, the Giants may have to do some guesswork on whether they think these players eventually will be re-signed and if they’ll be healthy.
For instance, Smith has been New York’s No. 1 receiver. If the Giants are left to guess on his health status, they suddenly may feel a need to get a receiver very early in the draft. The Giants also must be poised to make some accounting moves the moment the labor impasse ends. The Giants have $132.9 million committed toward the 2011 salary cap. We won’t know what the new cap will be until there is a new labor agreement, but early estimates say it will be somewhere in the $115 million to $125 million range.
Philadelphia Eagles: This was supposed to be an important offseason for the Eagles in their quest to take a step forward, and a long labor impasse could really hurt. Quarterback Michael Vick played exceptionally well last season, and the Eagles were looking forward to having him get all the first-team work this offseason. That’s something Vick didn’t do last offseason because Kevin Kolb got all the first-team work up to the start of the season.
A long labor impasse could also tie the Eagles’ hands when it comes to Kolb. They would like to at least listen to trade offers for Kolb, but those can’t come if the NFL freeze on transactions continues. If this situation remains until the draft, the Eagles won’t be able to get picks for Kolb this year, and that probably lessens the chances of their trading him once the labor impasse ends.
The other major setback from a continued labor impasse for the Eagles relates to the health of last year’s first-round pick, defensive end Brandon Graham, and second-round pick, safety Nate Allen. Both players are coming off major knee injuries as rookies, and the Eagles were hoping to get them back on the field for offseason workouts.
Washington Redskins: This was a team already surrounded by uncertainty. Now, it could get worse. The Redskins don’t even know who their quarterback will be. Coach Mike Shanahan previously said he doesn’t expect any decision on Donovan McNabb’s future until after the draft. An extended impasse means the Redskins can’t do anything with McNabb until there is a new labor agreement. Rex Grossman, who started some games in place of McNabb last season, isn’t under contract.
The Redskins have the No. 10 overall pick in the draft and could get a quarterback there. Otherwise, their hands are tied until the labor situation is resolved. They don’t have a starting running back after releasing Clinton Portis, the offensive line isn’t very good and Santana Moss, the only real wide receiver threat, is not under contract.
The good news is that the release of Porter and some other preemptive moves have put the Redskins in decent salary-cap shape. They should have somewhere around $20 million to work with when and if free agency starts. Owner Daniel Snyder never has been shy about spending money. The only difference is that this offseason he’ll have to sit and wait.
Dallas Cowboys: Aside from the Redskins, an extended labor impasse probably puts the Cowboys at the biggest disadvantage of the NFC East teams. Jason Garrett took over as interim head coach last season and earned the permanent job. Garrett has history with the team and knows the personnel well. But he could really use this offseason to firmly establish his system and style. The Cowboys added defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, and an extended labor impasse prevents the defensive players from even getting to know their new leader.
Quarterback Tony Romo missed the last 10 games of last season and could use the on-field time with the rest of the offense, particularly receiver Dez Bryant, who has yet to go through a full offseason with Romo. The Cowboys also face a big task coming out of a long labor impasse. They have a league-high $137.4 million committed toward a 2011 salary cap, and that doesn’t include draft picks or tenders. Depending on when the labor situation is resolved, the Cowboys will have to create a lot of cap room quickly, and that might prevent them from being able to be active in whatever kind of free-agency period ends up taking place.