With the NFL's current collective bargaining agreement set to expire in only a matter of days, 32 franchises are preparing to embrace life without football—at least for the short term. Many front offices are placing franchise tags on their most valued free agents, unsure what the future holds. The players remain firm in their positions, confident that in the end a they will receive a favorable resolution.
For the Cleveland Browns, a lock out means that many players on the injured reserve last season might have to wait another season to prove that they ultimately deserve a roster spot. One such player is running back Montario Hardesty, the Browns third overall pick of the 2010 draft and a player so coveted by former head coach Eric Mangini that the Browns actually traded back into the second round to draft him at no. 59 overall.
Big things were expected from Hardesty, who had run for over 1,300 yards in his final season at the University of Tennessee despite missing a couple of games due to injury. Hardesty would impress Browns coaches from the get go with his football knowledge during OTAs. Yet Hardesty would not see the field in 2010 after suffering a season ending knee injury during the third preseason game.
The emergence of Peyton Hillis as the lead back for Cleveland last season more than likely means he is number one on the depth chart entering 2011. So, the question remains, is Montario Hardesty the one Cleveland Brown with the most to lose if the NFL does not play any games this year?
The hiring of Pat Shurmur as the Cleveland Browns new head coach and the subsequent installation of the west coast offense, is sure to shake things up. Publicly, Hardesty has praised both, and he has gone as far as to insinuate the west coast offense is very similar to the one that his former coach Lane Kiffin ran at Tennessee. Shurmur, however, has not gone into detail about the offense that much, saying only that he liked what he has seen from quarterback Colt McCoy thus far.
Then there are the comments of team president Mike Holmgren, who, in the days leading up to the NFL combine, said the Browns needed to get "a home run hitter." While it has been assumed that Holmgren was referring to a wide receiver, isn't it just as possible he could be referring to a running back as well?
Even if the Browns don't draft a running back this April, there are several players who are likely to be free agents once a new CBA is reached, and it has been rumored that the one player the Browns could go after is Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams. Williams struggled last season while remaining healthy for the Panthers, but it was generally agreed that the Panthers offensive line was a mess. Williams could be the perfect change-of-pace-back to go along with Hillis in Cleveland.
At the end of the day, Montario Hardesty will more than likely get his shot. One just wonders how much of a shot that will be if there is no football in 2011.