Giants ready on both sides of standoff
Work stoppage comes as no shock, so Big Blue players, management are prepared
Negotiations have broken down, the NFL players association has decertified and a lockout is under way.
"I am not worried about it and I don't think the players are worried about it," O'Hara, the New York Giants' players association representative, said recently. "We have been educating the players on here is what is going to happen, here is how it is going to look like, here is what we are going to have to do.
"We are ready for it and we are prepared for it."
Giants management and ownership have also been preparing for a work stoppage. As the NFL heads into limbo, here's a look at how it will affect the Giants and how they will cope.
The Giants are as equipped as they can be for a lengthy work stoppage. By keeping Tom Coughlin and his staff for another season, the Giants don't have to deal with a new head coach and staff installing new schemes and worrying about having potentially little time to do so.
This is one reason John Mara kept Coughlin. Hiring a new coach and a new staff could have been disastrous if a lockout extends into training camp. Teams are not allowed to have any communication with players during a stoppage. Can you imagine Eli Manning and the Giants offense having to learn a new system with only a few weeks to do so?
Even though Coughlin hasn't altered his staff, he says the lack of communication with his players will be hard to deal with.
"That will be something that none of us in this profession really want," Coughlin said at the NFL scouting combine. "Everything we do is always a hands-on approach. You have the constant flow of information back and forth, so that part of it will be the difficult part of it.
"I talk to them a lot," he continued. "I really do. Because even prior to the start of the offseason program, guys are around all the time. That's the way it is, that's the way we want it."
Familiarity and continuity will help the Giants the longer this impasse goes. Just look at division rivals Dallas and Philadelphia: Both have new defensive coordinators and their defenses could get off to slow starts if a stoppage goes into training camp.
Judging by their moves to offer tenders to many of their potential restricted free agents, the Giants want to keep most of the roster from their 10-win 2010 season intact. That will greatly help them in the case that a stoppage disrupts offseason workouts and even training camp.
The Giants offered second-round tenders to running back Ahmad Bradshaw, defensive tackle Barry Cofield, tight end Kevin Boss and defensive end Dave Tollefson, and original-round tenders to defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, wide receiver Steve Smith and offensive lineman Kevin Boothe.
Teams might not be able to make roster moves until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. And it remains to be seen whether there will be restricted free agents under a new CBA. If a new CBA does away with restricted free agency, the tenders the Giants made to those players will be meaningless.
Regardless, the Giants want to bring back as many of their own players as possible. That could help them get off to a smoother start compared to a team that makes several changes.
Defensive players spent last year trying to grasp first-year coordinator Perry Fewell's system. Now they know what he wants and expects, and the defense should only be better in Fewell's second year. Fewell would love to have Cofield and Kiwanuka back. The Giants still need another linebacker, cornerback and safety; but, for the most part, the core of Fewell's defense will be intact for the season.
If free agency comes after the draft due to the labor impasse, teams may alter their normal approach to the draft. Teams may be forced to pick based on need rather than taking the best players available.
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The Giants went with the best player available on their board over need last year with their first-round selection, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. General manager Jerry Reese says it will be business as usual.
"We're just looking for good players all the time," Reese said at the scouting combine. "We're looking for playmakers. Looking for speed. Looking for tough players, smart people in the draft. Nothing changes in that respect. We're just looking for players who can add depth, look for some starters."
Linebacker, offensive line, cornerback, safety and tight end are areas the Giants will look at in the draft. But we still expect Reese to take the best player available on his board at 19th overall.
The Giants currently have no plans for salary cuts or furloughs for team employees or the coaching staff during a work stoppage.
Mara, the team president and CEO, said that he has installed a salary and hiring freeze until further notice.
Players locked out
With the NFL in lockout mode, players will not be allowed at team facilities or be able to talk to club personnel. That means players must be responsible for working out and rehabbing injuries on their own.
Some injured players, such as O'Hara and Rich Seubert, had been fixtures at the team's facility since the end of the season for rehab. O'Hara had surgery on his foot last month and will soon undergo another procedure to clean out his ankle and Achilles.
"I have been rehabbing for the last six weeks at the facility every day, getting better and trying to get healthy," O'Hara said during the first week of March. "Basically, what teams around the league and the Giants have done is [find] other rehab facilities for us to go to and they set that up and they are taking care of that for us."
Jacobs said he has been staying in shape by running three times a week with some teammates, and the boxing enthusiast has also sparred a few rounds for cardio.
Manning said in February that he talked to some players about possibly organizing something.
"I've talked to some players to kind of figure [it] out," Manning told reporters during Super Bowl week. "You have to wait and see but kind of make some plans to get a high school field to throw at or find a place to lift weights or get a training room for guys who are coming back from injuries."
O'Hara, though, does not want to see any contact drills or practices. If any player gets injured, he is on his own. Most players will rely on COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) coverage for insurance, according to O'Hara. The center said health insurance premiums can cost $2,000-$2,500 a month for a player with a family with two kids to maintain their current coverages.
"I am actually against any organized practices by players," O'Hara said. "I want guys to work out and stay in shape. The problem is, if we organize a workout, that kind of goes against what's happened with the lockout. If they are locking us out, [they're] telling us they are not letting us work. So I have an issue with that.
"The other factor, which is bigger, is if a player gets hurt while he is working out, he is basically on his own," the center added. "We just have to take it one step at a time and kind of limit the risk."
Keith Bulluck, whose one-year contract is up, says a work stoppage hurts the younger players the most. Rookies and inexperienced players may not have as much time in the meeting rooms to improve techniques and learn the playbook.
"For the rookies, for the second-, third-year guys that are trying to learn the system and be a part of this great league and go out there and make plays and become superstars, I think that hurts them the most," said Bulluck, who has expressed a desire to remain a Giant.
See you in camp
Jacobs and O'Hara say a work stoppage during the spring and early summer won't be that damaging. Jacobs won't start really worrying unless it creeps into July and toward the start of training camp.
"The teams aren't making any money off OTAs and minicamp," Jacobs said of the spring football offseason activities. "I don't think we will miss one week of the season or miss one week of training camp. This thing is going to get done. When these teams start making money, they are not going to miss that, so in training camp that is when it happens; people come to see the team practice and parking and all that stuff.
"These teams don't want to miss that kind of money and money from games. Not a chance in hell that is going to happen."
"The guys [players] aren't getting paid now anyways, so what is the difference?" Jacobs added.
Jacobs started growing a beard and joked he might keep the facial hair until NFL life returns to normal.
"I think I may have an itch for about six months now, 6½ months," Jacobs cracked.
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