A long NFL labor impasse means fans will be deprived of the offseason they’ve grown to love. There will be no trades and perhaps no free agency. And the possibility there will not be football remains until owners and players can forge a deal. That’s complicated, however, because of mistrust between both sides and the specter of litigation. The NFL Players Association is now a trade association. The NFL is a league that will hold a draft in April but can do little else until courts rule on numerous lawsuits expected to be filed.
Here are five questions about a messy situation:
How has the offseason changed?
Until there is a labor agreement, teams can’t make trades or sign players. Players are not permitted to go to their team's headquarters. The NFL Coaches Association estimates 12 teams will start reducing salaries of either head coaches or assistants because of a lockout. Teams also may start laying off employees. Basically, the NFL is heading toward shutdown mode. For fans, they can turn their attention toward the draft April 28-30. Until there is a labor agreement, there will be no offseason programs such as minicamps. The NFL truly is facing an "off" season.
How different will the draft be?
The draft will proceed as normal with one exception: No player currently in the league can be involved in a trade. Only draft choices can be swapped. Teams will only be able to fill their needs through the draft because there's no telling when free agency will begin.
Will there be some free agency?
Possibly, but that’s the owners’ decision. At some point, the NFL could try to implement its own system of free agency. For example, it could put in place rules from the 2010 free agency period in which it would take a player six years to become a free agent. That could put trades back into effect, but that system would have to withstand legal challenges in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge David Doty in Minneapolis. The problem the owners would have implementing a system is the league would be subject to treble damages if Doty determines it's in violation of antitrust laws.
What teams will have an advantage if there is a long work stoppage?
Teams with established coaches and quarterbacks will have an edge. Teams with new coaches, new offensive or defensive schemes or new quarterbacks will be in trouble because it will be difficult for them to put in their systems if a work stoppage lasts until the summer.
Is there some hope?
Maybe. It’s not out of the question for players, who hold their annual player reps meeting next week, and owners, who have their owners meeting scheduled to start March 20, to meet toward the end of the month to try to work out a deal. By then, Doty will have made some rulings and each side would have had time to form new strategies. But it’s also possible both sides will be too busy sniping at each other for anything to get done until the summer.