Commentary

Labor pains not the same for everyone

Teams in the midst of change are at a disadvantage; stable Saints gaining upper hand

Originally Published: May 19, 2011
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Now that the three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a 2-1 decision in favor of the NFL to keep the lockout going, pro football probably will remain in flat-line mode through most of June.

Already coaches are starting to edit their playbooks, figuring they probably aren't going to have any OTAs (organized team activities) or minicamps. Many have had to alter their budgets because of lockout-imposed paycuts.

There are some notable differences between this year and the labor-shortened seasons of 1982 and '87. In those troubled years, at least the season started on time. Plus, free agency didn't exist. Players were trapped on teams whether they liked it or not. In 1982, for example, when the league went on strike after Week 2, teams that had no coaching or starting quarterback changes survived better than the teams trying a new head coach or a new quarterback.

That formula could be similar this year. Let's look at the five teams most affected by no true offseason and the five teams least affected.

Teams most affected

1. Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings have a deadly combination of going with a new head coach (Leslie Frazier) and a new quarterback (Christian Ponder). It helps a little that Frazier was the interim coach last season, so it shouldn't take much time to get the defense up to speed.

That can't be said of the offense. Ponder had only a brief meeting with new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and is having to learn the playbook on his own. He's thinking of getting a couple of his wide receivers together for some throwing sessions in Florida, but there is another problem. Minneapolis, like Green Bay and Buffalo, is not an offseason home for most of the players. Warmer climates such as Miami, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas and New Orleans have significant edges because they can get three dozen players together without difficulty.

Training in Houston, Adrian Peterson, for example, has spent more time with Vince Young -- who won't be a Viking -- than Ponder. Trying to pull all of this together without an offseason program will be tough. The longer this lockout goes, the more the Vikings will suffer.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Mike Nelson/US PresswireUntil the lockout ends, Jake Locker's NFL education is largely on hold.

2. Tennessee Titans: The Titans are in exactly the same place as the Vikings. Mike Munchak takes over for Jeff Fisher as head coach. The Titans drafted QB Jake Locker with the eighth overall pick, and new offensive coordinator Chris Palmer can't teach Locker anything until the lockout ends. Sure, the Titans can bring back Kerry Collins to be a veteran insurance policy, but he would have to learn a new system.

The defense, most specifically the defensive line, also will have to make more adjustments now that Fisher is gone. D-line coach Jim Washburn left for the Philadelphia Eagles, leaving a bunch of understudies who thrived under his coaching.

3. Cincinnati Bengals: It would be a different story if Carson Palmer were coming back, but he's not. If he's not traded, Palmer will take the season off because he vows not to wear a Bengals uniform again. Palmer could have pulled things together because he has the same coach, Marvin Lewis, and could have done his best with a young offense that probably will move Chad Ochocinco to a different team.

The problem is trying to get rookie QB Andy Dalton on the same page with new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden without a true offseason. Converting a spread offense quarterback into a West Coast system is hard enough, but to do it with no offseason prep is nearly impossible. Because most of Gruden's time has been spent in Arena football, it's not as if he can buy Dalton time and bring in a veteran who has worked with him in the past. Some believe the Bengals might go for a Jim Sorgi to help out, but is that going to be good enough?

4. Seattle Seahawks: Other than Matt Hasselbeck getting together with tight end John Carlson for workouts, little is going on for the Seahawks and coach Pete Carroll. Even worse is that Hasselbeck is a free agent and had to borrow a playbook from friends to get to know the Seahawks' new offense.

Carroll has other problems. He's in the process of breaking in three new starters along the offensive line; he could end up with one of the youngest lines in football. None of those players are getting coached. If Hasselbeck re-signs, the Seahawks can salvage some things, but the clock is ticking.

5. Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals didn't have a post-Kurt Warner plan for when he retired last year. Although they have plenty of options to find a quarterback, the lockout has them blocked. They could eventually sign Marc Bulger or trade for Kevin Kolb or Kyle Orton, but any new quarterback will need time to get adjusted to the offense.

Larry Fitzgerald is doing a good job of keeping players together during the offseason, but he doesn't have a starting quarterback with whom to work. If the Cardinals don't get their quarterback until sometime in August, the offense might have a better chance of getting better in 2012 than 2011.

Teams least affected

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Brett Davis/US PresswireDrew Brees is going to great lengths to make sure the Saints stay sharp during the lockout.

1. New Orleans Saints: Credit QB Drew Brees. He's running the most extensive offseason camp of any team in football. He has four-day-a-week sessions with trainers, equipment, meeting rooms, game tape and structure. As the leader of the team, he's funding this project and is getting 35 to 40 players a session. The Saints run complex systems on offense and defense, so keeping players mentally sharp is vital. Leadership like that won't go unrewarded once the season starts.

2. Atlanta Falcons: Quarterback Matt Ryan has enough players living in Atlanta during the offseason that he has no problem getting 30 players together for workouts. This is the Falcons' fourth season with Mike Smith as head coach and Ryan at quarterback. The informal practices are refresher courses, keeping minds and bodies sharp. The key player to work with is first-round choice Julio Jones, who was cleared to run this week.

3. Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning just started his work with teammates. Manning is a perfectionist, and he'll make sure the offense doesn't lose much while the lockout continues. It does hurt that the offensive line might have to break in two potential rookie starters who aren't getting any coaching, but Manning will make the best of a tough situation.

4. Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo has done a great job of organizing the three dozen players who are doing informal Cowboys workouts. Because he's working with the same Jason Garrett system the offense has had for years, there is no learning curve for the players. Everyone knows the system. Romo can concentrate on timing and conditioning. The defense hasn't had the chance to work with new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, but it can adjust to the new scheme in training camp.

5. San Diego Chargers: This spot would have been reserved for Tom Brady and the Patriots, but Brady hasn't started his workouts with teammates. Once Brady gets going, the Pats should be fine. In the meantime, Philip Rivers can keep the Chargers' offense together by having occasional practices. The Norv Turner offense has been around for the longest time, and even though the Chargers will be undergoing a major renovation of the receiving corps in the next two years, the cast of offensive players is pretty much the same.

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