Undrafted rookies may be stuck on sidelines

In the event of a prolonged labor dispute, another potential problem that hadn't occurred to me would impact players like Wes Welker, Davone Bess and Danny Woodhead.

There will be an NFL draft in April, but there won't be free agency until a new collective bargaining agreement has been hammered out. NFL.com senior writer Steve Wyche points out that would prevent undrafted rookies from signing with teams.

Rosters are loaded with undrafted contributors, and that's plainly evident in the AFC East.

The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots were led in rushing by undrafted backs Fred Jackson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Woodhead.

Rookie free agents are necessary to building a roster and maintaining a personnel budget. The Patriots have masterfully collected players nobody pegged worthy of a pick. In addition to the Patriots' top two running backs and wide receiver, right guard Stephen Neal, defensive end Mike Wright, linebacker Gary Guyton and cornerback Kyle Arrington fall in this category.

Even the New York Jets, who readily turn over their roster and pursue star veterans, have a few undrafted starters: right guard Brandon Moore, defensive lineman Mike DeVito, linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard.

Wyche astutely points out how important it is for these long-shot gems to get into a team's offseason conditioning program as quickly as possible, and that they generally make their way through special teams. With that in mind, Wyche writes, special-teams play "could actually be worse if those type of players can't get signed in time for a fairly lengthy offseason of work."