Commentary

Opinions may vary on lockout timing

Veteran players might be able to gain an advantage over rookies if situation drags on

Originally Published: July 5, 2011
By Ross Tucker | ESPN.com

Peppers/LefegedUS PresswireThe lockout means very different things to established veterans such as Julius Peppers and undrafted rookie free agents such as Joe Lefeged.

The only thing everyone can agree on when it comes to the lockout is that the sooner it is finally over the better, right? Wrong. The truth is, it all depends on who you talk to and what their perspective is. That is especially true among the players.

Think of the lockout and all of the missed minicamps, organized team activities (OTAs) and coaching time from the perspective of two different players 10 years apart in age. Let's use my career as an average player as an easy example.

If I were still playing I would be going into my 11th year in the league and would probably be some team's interior backup, playing under a one-year contract for the veteran minimum. I'd fill my customary role, if I was able to earn it again, of being the first man to go into a game at either guard spot or center should any of the starters go down.

I'd be one of the seven offensive linemen who suit up for every game and I'd have to be ready at a moment's notice to go in and play effectively, even though I would receive very few or no repetitions during the practice week. That's the job.

My competition would probably be a young mid-round draft choice, either a rookie or a second-year guy the team was grooming to take my spot and perhaps even start someday. In fact, in the minds of the front office types, the sooner this kid could beat me out, the better.

From my perspective as a veteran guy, the lockout wouldn't be such a bad thing thus far. Not at all. The less opportunity my young competitor would have to practice and therefore improve, the better. He would be behind in trying to both master the intricacies of the offense and sharpening his skills. No OTAs and minicamps would make it more likely that he would struggle at the start of camp and, before you know it, the coaching staff would make the decision that they simply didn't feel comfortable with him in there yet, especially if a starter were to go down with a season-ending injury early in the year.

I'd probably get the job and thus another year in the league, and I would have been aided, in no small part, by the lockout. In fact, from my veteran viewpoint, I wouldn't even mind if we missed a couple of weeks of training camp. Even better.

But what about the other side of the equation? What about "young Ross?"

I came into the league as an undrafted rookie free agent with Marty Schottenheimer and the Washington Redskins in 2001. I was able to get a solid opportunity to show what I could do in the OTAs and minicamps and made the most of it. Sure, I made some mistakes early on, but I got better every day and the coaches noticed it. By the time we arrived at training camp, I felt very comfortable with the offense and they had their eyes on me as someone to watch. Fortunately for me, they decided to keep me on the active roster and my dream came true.

What if I were coming into the NFL this year? What if I were born in 1989 instead of 1979?

Instead of getting ready for training camp with a team that already liked me based on the positive first impression I had made, I would not even know which team, if any, I was going to sign with. Odds are at this point that my first time even picking up a playbook would be on the first day of training camp. My head would be spinning those first couple of days as I tried to learn the plays while attempting, probably in vain, to adjust to the speed of the game at the professional level.

I'd probably get few chances to show what I could do because the coaches would be more concerned -- and rightly so -- with getting the starters prepared for the opener. Seeing if an afterthought like me might be good enough to keep around on the practice squad or active roster would be way down the list of priorities.

The net result? I'd get cut from the team and my NFL dream would probably be dead.

They say timing is everything in life and that couldn't be more true if you ask the impending veteran free agents, older guys trying to hang on for one more season, and rookies just trying to make a squad. Whether the lockout timing for the various NFL players is good or bad this year is entirely dependent on who you talk to.

From the inbox

Q: I loved your ideas on how to rectify the current labor impasse. I particularly like suggestion No. 4. If they were to add one game and also an additional bye week, everyone would benefit. But, I like this idea for another reason. It would increase the length of the NFL season by two weeks. Therefore, the Super Bowl would be played the day before Presidents Day, a holiday. Quite a few people have said that the day after the Super Bowl should be a holiday. By adding two weeks to the season, this is accomplished.

David from Highland, Ill.

A: I'm so glad you wrote in. I had thought of this as an awesome added benefit but didn't realize I forgot to include it in my column until I read your email. Yes, there would be a lot of very happy people on Super Sunday knowing they wouldn't have to work the next day. Even more reason for the NFL to adopt my plan.

Q: Your proposal on ending the lockout sounds reasonable, and it will probably be adopted in some form by the players. The sticking point seems to be the owners and where they stand on sharing "excess" profits with each other. They are just as secretive withholding profits from each other as with the players' union. How can a new CBA be reached when the owners can't even present a unified proposal to the players?

Larry from Hobbs, N.M.

A: I am stunned the revenue-sharing issue among the owners has not gotten more attention. I still think it remains the biggest issue out there. With reports that teams are going to have to spend 90 percent to 93 percent of the salary cap in cash in order to get to the mandatory salary floor, that would seem to only exacerbate the problem. It is a complicated issue to be sure, and one the owners have done an amazing job of keeping under wraps.

Q: Your four-point approach to settling the CBA sounds good, but as usual the league, players and owners are taking care of themselves. But WHAT ABOUT THE FANS! The cost of going to an NFL game has dramatically increased over the past few years, to the point that the average Joe can't afford to go to a game. The NFL should be looking into how to make games more affordable for fans. The Super Bowl is mostly attended by sponsors and very few REAL fans. Concession prices are outrageous. For the price of two beers at a game, I can buy a case for the house. Do you have a plan to address ticket prices?

Lynn from Gramercy, La.

A: I hear you, Lynn. In fact, I can't imagine paying money for tickets, parking and concessions, not to mention sitting in aggravating traffic. I personally wouldn't pay to go to a game, and I truly love football. It is a problem that the NFL is well aware of and it recognizes how important it is, even if just for the television broadcast, that the stadiums are full. That said, teams consider some pretty complex formulas when setting their ticket prices and they won't come down until the teams believe it behooves them financially to do so.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in a seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.

Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams during his seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com. Tucker, who also hosts ESPN.com's Football Today podcast, graduated from Princeton.