A lockout will cost everyone involved. But some teams have more to lose from a lockout than others because they need the offseason more.
Teams that should be the biggest doves in the labor war, based strictly on the 2011 season, are the Broncos, Titans, Vikings, 49ers, Panthers, Browns and Cardinals. Here is a look at why each of those teams needs a quick labor resolution.
Broncos—New coach John Fox is converting to a 4-3 defense from a 3-4, probably without the benefit of offseason camps. He’s also trying to determine if Tim Tebow is ready to become a starting quarterback and if he should deal Kyle Orton. Whoever starts will have to learn a new offense.
Titans—After years of stability, there has been major upheaval in Tennessee. Players accustomed to the same old, same old might not have any time to integrate the new systems. What’s more, the Titans still don’t know who their starting quarterback will be. They are expected to trade Vince Young and acquire a veteran to play under center.
Vikings—They retained interim head coach Leslie Frazier, but he brought in a new offensive coordinator in Bill Musgrave, and the team is seeking a replacement for retiring quarterback Brett Favre. The roster figures to undergo a facelift at several positions, as starters with expiring contracts include receiver Sidney Rice, defensive tackle Pat Williams, defensive end Ray Edwards, linebackers Ben Leber and Chad Greenway, safety Madieu Williams and kicker Ryan Longwell. When the lockout ends, the Vikings may need to wear nametags in the locker room.
ICONAlex Smith has at least one very attractive quality to Jim Harbaugh -- immediate availability.
49ers—Most of the 49ers new coaches came from the college ranks, so they have to get to know the league as well as their team. And their team could have a new starting quarterback, as David Carr is the only 49er signal caller under contract. Then again, indications are the 49ers are finding free agent Alex Smith more attractive than they would under other circumstances because Smith is available to work with now. The 49ers offense will be run by its third coordinator in two years.
Panthers—This was the worst team in the league last year, and it might be difficult for the Panthers to improve much considering the new coaching staff may have no minicamps or OTAs, and perhaps a condensed training camp to implement new systems. The high draft picks the Panthers were rewarded with will have to adjust to the pros without the benefit of a normal offseason. And it’s possible the Panthers will have a new quarterback.
Browns—Defensive players are learning a new scheme, as new coordinator Dick Jauron is going with a four man front. Jauron has to figure out who fits where, and he likely won’t have much time to put the pieces in place. Pat Shurmur’s new offense also will take time for players to get used to.
Cardinals—This team still is reeling from Kurt Warner’s retirement, and still searching for a replacement. Ray Horton is bringing the Steelers defensive playbook west, and Cardinals defenders have a lot of studying to do.
Other teams that could be affected more than most include the Bengals (Jay Gruden is trying to install a new offense), Texans (Wade Phillips is converting the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4), Rams (Sam Bradford will be learning his second offense in as many years under Josh McDaniels ), Seahawks (they will have a new offensive playbook with Darrell Bevell in charge) and Bucs (this is a young team that needs as much work as possible to take the next step).
Things I Didn’t Used To Know
*The Eagles have put out the word that in return for Kevin Kolb, they would like a first round pick and something else, maybe a third round pick. The Eagles are known to be tough trade negotiators, so no one expects them to come too far off their asking price. That price is a lot to ask for a player with a limited body of work, and a potential lockout has the brakes on all trades. So it’s starting to look as if it’s a possibility that Kolb might be back in Philly next year.
*Why were players from the Packers and Steelers slipping and sliding on the infill surface at Cowboys Stadium? The stadium uses three separate fields, depending on if it is hosting an NFL event, a college game or a soccer game. When each field is not being used, it gets rolled up. When the field gets rolled up, the fibers get compressed. My sources tell me the NFL had a difficult time getting the fibers to stand up the week before the game because the field had been in storage.
*Jay Gruden is the Bengals’ new offensive coordinator, but Brad Childress probably would have been if owner Mike Brown had offered Childress more freedom. Part of the deal was whoever took the job was going to have to work with the existing assistant coaches, so it was going to be difficult to completely implement a new offensive system.
*The Vikings have a tough decision about what to do with their franchise tag given both linebacker Chad Greenway and wide receiver Sidney Rice could become unrestricted free agents. The team wants both players back. Contract talks with Greenway have been fruitless up to this point. I’ve been told the most likely scenario is the team will use the franchise tag on Greenway, who might be the hotter commodity in free agency, and perhaps the transition tag on Rice. The wide receiver is coming off a hip injury and has only one year of production, so potential suitors might be more cautious with him. The Vikings are hoping to see what new linebackers coach Mike Singletary can do to improve Greenway, who already is an outstanding player.
*The emergence of Jordy Nelson in Green Bay could make James Jones expendable. The wide receiver’s contract is up, but Packers coaches have told me they would hate to see Jones go elsewhere and finally reach his potential. Jones might be the Packers best combination of size and speed at the position, but nagging injuries and untimely drops have been issues with him through the years. It’s possible that wherever Jones plays, 2012 will be a breakout season for him.
My Sunday Best: Combine Stars
With the combine starting this week, it’s a good time to look back at some of the most impressive players in combine history. They didn’t all become NFL stars, but they were stars for at least a day.
QB—Matt Jones, Arkansas. He gets an asterisk because he was a college quarterback working out like a wide receiver, the position most NFL teams thought he would fit best. Jones lit it up for any position, running a 4.37 40 yard dash, vertical jumping 39 ½ inches and broad jumping 10-9 at 6-6, 242 pounds.
Bo knows the 40-yard dash.
RB—Bo Jackson, Auburn. In 1986, Jackson’s legend grew when he ran the 40 in 4.12. He was not timed electronically, however, and the joke is a couple of fractions of a second are shaved off his time every year. Honorable mention at this position goes to Chris Johnson, who turned in a 4.24 in the 40 in 2008.
WR—Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech. In 2007, Johnson made a strong argument he was the best combination of size and speed to ever play the wide receiver position by running a 4.35 40-yard dash at 6-5, 239 pounds. We also can’t overlook Rondel Melendez, the Eastern Kentucky product who turned in a 4.24 40 in 1999.
TE—Vernon Davis, Maryland. Unlike most combine athletes, Davis didn’t pick and choose his drills. He did it all and he did it all spectacularly. At 6-3, 254, Davis ran the 40 in 4.38. He vertical jumped 42 inches and broad jumped 10-8. His 10-yard dash time was 1.51. And he bench pressed 225 pounds 33 times.
OL—Bruce Campbell, Maryland. He made the all body team, and his workout was darned impressive too. Last year Campbell, at a cut up 6-6, 314 pounds, ran a 4.75 40 yard dash and vertical jumped 32 inches while bench pressing 225 pounds 34 times. That’s unheard of.
DL—Justin Ernest, Eastern Kentucky. He got 51 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press in 1999. To put that in perspective, no other man who has attempted it has gotten within six reps of him to my knowledge. The most explosive, athletic combine performance ever by a defensive lineman probably was by Dwight Freeney.
LB— Mike Mamula, Boston College. He is probably the most famous combine success story ever, the ultimate workout warrior. Unfortunately, Mamula’s career peaked at the 1995 combine when he ran a 4.58 40 yard dash and benched pressed 225 26 times.
S—Gerald Sensabaugh, North Carolina. In 2005 he vertical jumped 46 inches—an all-time combine record. He also broad jumped 11-1 and ran a 4.44 40-yard dash.
CB—Deion Sanders, Florida State. There have been many combine stars at this position throughout the years, including Champ Bailey in 1999, and Fabian Washington and Stanford Routt in 2005. But Deion, who ran a 4.28 40 yard dash in 1989, topped them all.
Are there other combine favorites of yours that I missed? Let me know.
Scout Talk: Under the Combine Microscope
When the NFL world descends on Indianapolis later this week, the attention of front office men will be drawn in many directions. But a few I spoke with this week told me they will remain particularly focused on four things. They are:
*Defensive ends. Four juniors enhanced a pretty strong group of senior pass rushers, but NFL teams still are sorting out the players. As many as nine ends could be taken in the first round if the workouts are impressive. Who those nine are will depend on what happens in Indy. Missouri’s Aldon Smith in particular can help himself by showing up prepared and working out well. He still is one of the biggest unknowns in the draft to NFL teams. Teams don’t have a 40 time or confirmed height and weight on Wisconsin end J.J. Watt. Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue also can suppress doubts with an impressive workout.
*Offensive tackles. The pecking order for tackles has yet to be determined. Southern Cal’s Tyron Smith might be No. 1 on most boards now, but that can change over the next week. If Colorado’s Nate Solder, Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi or Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo creates a combine buzz, any of the three could secure the top tackle spot. According to one personnel man, Solder, Castonzo and Arkansas DeMarcus Love need to rehabilitate their stock after so-so performances at the Senior Bowl.
*Running backs. The top two, Mark Ingram of Alabama and Mikel LeShoure of Illinois, seem set. But there is a chance that another one or two could sneak into the first round. It will be an important combine for Virginia Tech’s Ryan Williams and Oklahoma State’s Kendall Hunter.
*Small school prospects. If players who competed against a lower level of competition can’t match up athletically with bigger school prospects, their chances are very limited. Some of the players who will be scrutinized include Villanova offensive tackle Ben Ijalana, Appalachian State offensive tackle Dan Kilgore, Lehigh guard Will Rackley, Slippery Rock center Brandon Fusco, Florida Atlantic quarterback Jeff Van Kamp, Fort Valley State receiver Ricardo Lockette, Walsh wide receiver Joe Morgan, Fort Hays State wide receiver O.J. Murdock, and Appalachian State outside linebacker D.J. Smith.
One Man Yelp: Survivor Redemption Island
The season premiere of Survivor ran Thursday, and the storyline promises to be an intriguing one based on a plot twist, two old friends and one new player.
The plot twist is Redemption Island. When a tribe member is voted off, he or she longer is necessarily done in the game. The cast-off goes to Redemption Island, where he/she will fend for himself or herself and ultimately compete with another cast-off for the right to return to the game. This is sure to lead to some interesting maneuvering and politicking.
The old friends are Boston Rob and Russell, who are back competing in their fourth and third episodes, respectively. I call them friends because we know them. And because we know them, we also know they really are not friends. Both are villains, manipulators with bad intentions. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the newbies to get smart and send these two packing. At least temporarily packing, that is. Already, there was a weak attempt Thursday to get rid of Boston Rob.
That attempt was thwarted by the new player who should make things interesting, Phillip. The wacky 52-year old keeps telling everyone he is a former federal agent, as if they should be impressed. The show calls him a “Former Federal Agent?” with a question mark after his name. If Phillip used to be a federal agent, it’s easy to see why he is a “former” federal agent. Phillip voluntarily and strangely spilled the beans at tribal council on the plan to overthrow Boston Rob, outing Kristina and Francesca, though he could not pronounce the latter’s name.
The tribal council subsequently was one of the most fascinating in Survivor history. I’m already looking forward to the next one.
*Is it too late to replace Jerry Richardson with Dan Rooney as the co-chair of the league’s negotiating committee?
*Ray Edwards’ talk about boxing got me thinking. Maybe he can promote a card featuring a main event of DeMaurice Smith versus Roger Goodell—winner gets his way with length of season.
*I’d be a lot more excited for the Raiders if they signed Rod Woodson to be their starting safety instead of their secondary coach.
*Had the Bears allowed Mike Tice out of his contract to go to the Titans, it would have been only slightly less perplexing than allowing Julius Peppers out of his contract.
*Good to see Chris Palmer resurrected and David McGinnis retained by the Titans. Their many years of NFL experience should be a benefit to Mike Munchak, a first time head coach.
*Bob Sanders might be the best safety in football—for about two games a year. Unfortunately, his body doesn’t hold up for 16, let alone 18.
*When did participating in Oprah become a bigger story than participating in offseason workouts?
Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune at chicagotribune.com.
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