Commentary

Maybe it's time for NFL to scramble

Opening up free agency would give fans some hope, let players move on

Originally Published: May 16, 2011
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Kevin Kolb, Donovan McNabb, and Vince YoungUS PresswireA free-agency period might let quarterbacks Kevin Kolb, Donovan McNabb and Vince Young find new homes. It would also give fans a glimmer of hope.
NFL attorneys continue to submit arguments to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to turn the temporary stay into a permanent stay and keep the lockout going until the three-judge panel rules.

On Thursday, NFL attorney Gregg Levy dropped a bombshell by saying it's possible the Eighth Circuit might not have a decision until late July instead of late June, which would completely wipe out the offseason for players and teams. In its bid to keep the lockout going, NFL attorneys say the league would be irreparably harmed by "under-cutting its labor law rights and irreversibly scrambling the eggs of player-club transaction.''

But if it is going to take until late July to get a decision from the Eighth Circuit, "scrambling the eggs'' might not be a bad idea. I'm not speaking as a lawyer because I'm not one. We all know that a lifted lockout would force the NFL to implement a free agency system and that it would be similar if not identical to the 2010 system. That would mean no salary cap, no team salary floor, six years until a player can be an unrestricted free agent and roughly $320 million of lost benefits to players.

NFL owners know they could be at risk for triple damages for implementing a 2010 system, but let's put that aside for another court date. At least the league could go back to being a league for a month or two. It's not like there would be a lot of signings, but there would be some.

That at least would give fans some thoughts of a 2011 season.

Last year, the crop of 221 free agents led to 51 signings, including 40 that made teams. This year's class is at 201, but that includes retired players Brett Favre and Alan Faneca. Kevin Kolb could be traded, resolving another quarterback situation. Things could open up to give Vince Young and Donovan McNabb new places to play. Matt Hasselbeck could become a Seahawk or find another job.

Scrambling the eggs could be distasteful enough for players that maybe they could persuade owners to have a serious conversation to get a long-term deal.

What the heck. NFL fans haven't had a transaction meal since the NFLPA decertified March 11. A little scrambled eggs might be tasty.

From the inbox

[+] EnlargeDennis Dixon
Grant Halverson/Getty Imagesblah to the blah. Savitzky!
Q: With so many teams looking at quarterback, what options do the Steelers have with Dennis Dixon? He's had some big moments and filled in well when called upon. If the 49ers could get Troy Smith and the Seahawks Charlie Whitehurst, how can a team like the Cardinals, Vikings or Bengals not be interested in extra time for development?

Gabe T in San Juan, Puerto Rico

A: Good question. He hasn't had enough playing time to draw trade interest. Clearly, the Steelers would like to keep him around as a backup, and that might be the best option. This will be interesting two-year period watching franchises cover their needs at quarterback. Most will look to the draft. One team will make a move on Kevin Kolb. Those that don't address their quarterback needs this year will look to next year's draft. That leaves Dixon in a tough spot.

Q: I'm a die-hard Lions fan and I liked what Detroit is doing on the defensive side building from the inside out. Do you see Detroit making a run at CB Nnamdi Asomugha from the Raiders? Also, what do you see Detroit doing in the free-agent market once it begins?

Dennis in Antioch, Calif.

A: That would finally solve their cornerback problems, but I don't see them making that move. Martin Mayhew made a lot of progress with the deals to get Chris Houston and Alphonso Smith last season. The Lions need to get two more corners to fill out their need, and they might look into moderately priced free agents. The Lions realize they aren't just one player away. If they were, signing Nnamdi would be the right move. They need this year and another draft to continue to rebuild the defense.

Q: I am a huge Bengal fan and have been seriously considering the draft this year since we didn't have any free agency. I began to wonder if Andy Dalton can be a good quarterback in the new offense. I know that A.J. Green will help him, but will it be a game-changer on Sunday? Lastly, I have one question about the defense: Will they be a good defense if they don't start with 40 yards behind them?

Joe in Cincinnati

A: Field position was a problem for the defense last year. I think you'll see the defense bounce back. Mike Zimmer, the Bengals' defensive coordinator, has talent and speed on his defense, and he runs an aggressive scheme. You figure the offense with Dalton in charge will be more 50-50 run-to-pass. That should help with the field position. Though it might not improve scoring, the offense should be able to help the defense better this year. Still, it will be a major adjustment not to have Carson Palmer.

Q: Do you think Jake Locker has a legitimate chance to be our franchise guy? He's the anti-Vince and has a fire that reminds me a lot of Steve Young. Accuracy issues? C'mon man. Fixable.

Guy in Nashvegas, Tenn.

A: If you're patient, Locker has a chance to be the Titans' franchise quarterback. He's a great athlete, a hard worker and a natural leader. He needs time to work through his issues with inaccuracy along with trying to learn to process the decision-making required of NFL quarterbacks. The key is for offensive coordinator Chris Palmer not to rush his development. By relying on the running offense, the Titans can buy Locker some time.

Q: There is a lot being said about the Cards being the top destination for Kevin Kolb, but there isn't much being said about what comes back. The Cards are in a weak division, and the addition of Kolb maybe makes them a legitimate playoff contender. Would the Eagles really trade Kolb for draft picks when they don't know where in the draft those picks would be?

Curran in Champaign, Ill.

A: The best option being thrown around is for the Cardinals to offer second-round choices in the next two drafts. That would be similar to the deal the Houston Texans used to acquire Matt Schaub. I like that option a lot better than immediately surrendering a first-round pick. The problem is convincing the Eagles.

Q: What do you have against the Packers? Management not listed in top 10? Aaron Rodgers not an elite quarterback? Almost no stories about the Packers? Packers not among the "winners" in the draft despite grading higher by most experts? Why the bias?

George in Bellingham, Wash.

A: Of course, you are referring to my decision not to include the Green Bay Packers ownership when ESPN.com rated league-wide ownership. Community ownership, to me, is different from the way the other 31 franchises are owned. For that reason and that reason only I didn't vote for the Packers. But let's be factual. I've had Rodgers as an elite quarterback since the first year he started. In fact, I moved him ahead of Ben Roethlisberger and made him the No. 4 quarterback in the league. I voted for coach Mike McCarthy in the top 10. Ted Thompson is in my top 10 of general managers. Don't take things personally. Plus, the mailbag has had plenty of Packers responses.

Q: Should the Cowboys have drafted Ryan Mallett for the future? He could've been a clipboard holder for the next three years. And unlike Tom Brady, Tony Romo probably won't be around in three years. Mallett's skill set is too much to ignore, much like Aaron Rodgers coming out of Cal. Futhermore, Jerry Jones loves his Arkansas alumni. Agree?

Adrian in Cotulla, Texas

A: Don't agree. This wasn't the year to look for a new quarterback. This was the year to start focusing on the offensive line, and that's what the Cowboys did. Give Jason Garrett another year with Romo as the starting quarterback and Jon Kitna as the backup. It's a good combo. You have to like the way Romo is leading the offseason program. The Cowboys have 40 to 50 players staying together. I know it was only a third-round pick, but I think the Patriots did the right thing.

Q: At the end of last year, I questioned your belief that the Cleveland Browns would look toward taking a QB in the 2011 draft. I argued that Colt McCoy had shown enough promise that Cleveland would not see a significant need to address this area in the draft, but you disagreed. Do you feel that Cleveland erred by not taking a QB or are you ready to concede my point?

Jeff C in Arlington, Mass.

A: I think they did the right thing. But the story may not be over. The Browns picked up that extra first-round pick in 2012 and could use it to acquire Kevin Kolb. The question now would be whether the Browns are better with McCoy or would they be better with Kolb? Remember, general manager Tom Heckert was involved in drafting Kolb and knows Kolb better than anyone. He also knows the West Coast system Mike Holmgren likes to run. That might be a temptation. In this draft, though, I thought McCoy stacked up pretty well against this class.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer