"Me time" a lockout casualty

With crucial meetings between the NFL Owners and the NFLPA leadership set to begin its fourth week, both sides realize economic harm is coming and the time is ripe to make a deal (here is analysis of reported issues they are hammering out).

When a deal is struck there will be a frenzy of activity in an extremely condensed period of time, the mechanics of which are being heavily discussed in these meetings. Team executives know they are now in a protracted calm before the storm.

Of the major sports, the NFL has the longest offseason. Its offseason is longer than its season, with the next meaningful snap after the Super Bowl coming seven months later in September. And that, of course, is without a lockout. In talking to teams, there has been one benefit to this idle offseason: no dealings with agents and players complaining about their individual contract situations.

Me time

Before “we time” -- when the team comes together in training camp -- there is “me time”, when players are more worried about themselves than their team. It is “business” time for players, agents and front offices in dealing with issues that can be a bit messy.

Every year in the offseason, the calls of discontent come, usually from the agent – although sometimes from the player directly – with the same theme: the player is being underpaid and undervalued compared to contracts of other players around the league.

The Agent Playbook

In my years in the front office, the strategy of wrangling more money for the player from the agent became quite scripted. Here are the steps taken by agents along with way:

(1) Express feelings of disappointment about the current contract;
(2) Absent a team response, suggest that a trade may be beneficial for both sides;
(3) Absent a team response, seek permission to survey teams for a possible trade (which most agents do anyway without permission);
(4) Absent a team response, express possibility/probability that the player may withhold his services from workouts, minicamps, OTAs, and perhaps even training camp (which, of course, is a breach of contract).

ICONThe Revis holdout effect on the Jets was evident.

The goal of agents and players is to create a level of angst in the front office to cause a reaction. Some teams appear to have greater anxiety with player unrest than others. With the Jets last year, the Darrelle Revis holdout permeated the organization, on display on HBO last summer. Other teams either fire back with indignation at these player complaints (see Chargers and Vincent Jackson) or let disgruntled player comments twist in the wind without response, causing added frustration from the player and agent (see Patriots with Logan Mankins).

No NFL, no new deals

Were we in the midst of an active offseason without a lockout, we would be hearing much more about “me time”, with players and agents trying to goad teams publicly into addressing their contracts. Indeed, I have heard from several team executives that they are relieved to not have to deal with “me time” in this locked-out offseason.

The lockout has provided a ready-made response from teams to players and agents that their contract situation cannot be addressed now.

Players such as DeSean Jackson, Chris Johnson, Sidney Rice, Steve Smith, David Harris and many others might otherwise be wondering if and when they were “being taken care of” by their teams (Johnson has expressed some of this even during the lockout). And agents such as Drew Rosenhaus would be ubiquitous in subtly – and not so subtly – pressuring teams, such as the Eagles with Jackson – to reward his players.

And with a highly condensed signing period ahead – hopefully soon – there will be little time to address players under contract as there will be 500 players without a contract in addition to unsigned rookies. Speaking of which,

Rookies on hold

Were we not in a lockout, we would be starting to hear about rookie contract negotiations. We would be reading the same line from the top picks, such as “I plan on being in camp on time; I’ll let my agent take care of that.” Translation: “When I don’t show up, my agent will be the bad guy, not me.” Of course, we don’t even know the structure of rookie contracts to come although it is certain that they will be sacrificial lambs in this labor battle.

Brave new world

From a front office perspective, the offseason -- when teams are assembled and renovated -- is busier than the season. Once the season starts, the team is mostly set and attention is already turning towards the following offseason. This year things are quite different and uncertain: there will be little time for “show me the money” demands before we are headlong into “we time” with training camp and the season.

One not-so-bad thing about the lockout…

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