A team-by-team look at how a continued labor impasse and extended NFL freeze on transactions would affect the division:
New Orleans Saints: This team is probably in the best shape of any in the division to withstand a long labor impasse. You almost get the feeling quarterback Drew Brees could roll out of bed on a September morning and the entire offense would be in midseason form. This is a veteran team with continuity on the coaching staff and the roster. A lengthy impasse actually could give the Saints a big advantage on the rest of the division.
Still, this team could use some time on the practice field. Coordinator Gregg Williams needs to get his defense back to the all-out approach it used to produce constant turnovers in the 2009 Super Bowl season. The Saints are likely to have a couple of defensive draft picks that they will want to work into the rotation quickly.
Atlanta Falcons: This team is somewhat like the Saints because Matt Ryan is an established quarterback, most of the coaching staff has been together the last three seasons and there is a good core of players in their prime. However, quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave left to become offensive coordinator in Minnesota, and it would be nice if Ryan could spend some offseason time with replacement Bob Bratkowski.
Defensive tackle Peria Jerry and receiver Harry Douglas were two players who didn’t produce big results last season. The Falcons have said both were slowed by injuries suffered in the 2009 season and they’re hoping for bigger things from them in the future. Jerry and Douglas are two players who could really use offseason workouts to earn increased roles.
Carolina Panthers: An extended labor impasse probably would hurt the Panthers more than any other team in the division. They’ve got a new coach in Ron Rivera and a coaching staff filled with mostly new assistants. There is a completely different offense waiting to be installed by coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who doesn’t even know who his quarterback will be yet.
There’s a new defensive system to be installed, too. That makes every offseason workout incredibly valuable, and the Panthers are supposed to get an extra minicamp because they have a new coach. Even if the labor impasse is short, every missed workout is going to be a setback for the Panthers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They’ve got their quarterback, Josh Freeman, in place and the coaching staff remains largely intact. But the Bucs aren’t quite like the Falcons and Saints when it comes to experience. They were the league’s youngest team last season and could use the time together.
Part of the reason Freeman blossomed and the Bucs were a surprising 10-6 last season was that Freeman spent so much time in the team facility in the offseason. He established himself as a leader and earned the respect of his teammates. In a labor impasse, Freeman and the rest of the players can’t go near One Buccaneer Place. Freeman has pledged to lead workouts with the receivers at other sites. That’s good, but it won’t be the same as working under the watch of the coaching staff.