Are you the kind of fan who rarely attends a regular season game? Maybe you’re the polar opposite, owning a costly season ticket?
Or perhaps you are most comfortable at home; laughing at the suckers who aren’t spending their days watching three-dimensional “Monday Night Football?”
Whichever category sums up your loyalty, take note, because it may vanish momentarily in a plume of smoke.
In the past two weeks, the NFL has successfully led a thirsty horse to water, with fans saddling up for the ultimate ride as the thought of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement remains hopeful.
After blinking once, however, that same hopefulness has left our hands, and shifted over to money-hungry lawyers.
For fans who still remain optimistic, those well-dressed henchmen are intent on doing what is “right” for the league, even if that means reducing 2011’s regular season to 14 games next year.
Then again, that scenario could fall flat on its face, quickly turn into no season at all, and become the nation’s worst nightmare since Charlie Sheen decided to make a Twitter account.
But aside from the folks who will obviously be affected (owners, players, fans), another whole group of individuals is set to suffer if a lockout creeps up on the league: the teams themselves.
Right now, everybody likes to believe that a new agreement will be reached sometime within the next 72 hours, simply due to the power in which the NFL holds over everyday Americans.
There’s nothing more valuable to people than football, and after a long day of 9 to 5 labor, returning home to a television set and the sound of Troy Aikman’s voice is soothing enough to make someone forget about their meaningless lives.
So how can the NFL really take that away from the people who have been so loyal to them for the past 91 years?
It’s hard to say, but apparently the league is as heartless as a professional tree lopper.
On Saturday, Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli was confident in telling the world how even the playing field is for every team, replying to reporters “Whatever the rules are, there will be the same rules for 32 teams.”
For Pioli, though, it is easy to make such a statement. Kansas City’s main man has a desk long enough to match that of a semi-trailer, and has also made it perfectly clear that he will reduce his own paycheck, plus Coach Todd Haley’s, should the league pack up next season.
Pioli isn’t the only general manager playing a no-nonsense game either.
But as for the teams left in dire-straits mode, they don’t stand a chance. Teams competing in a consumer-driven league are likely to suffer during a time that sees America struggling financially, and it will take a lot more than a few jersey sales at the stadium Pro Shop to fix that.
Stand up and wave hello, Cleveland Browns, this next year may not be easy.
You guessed it; the NFL’s pin cushion will again suffer if worst comes to worst. Financially, the Browns will grind to a halt, that’s a given, but for all of Cleveland’s hard work over the past three years, let’s just say it may be erased sooner than later.
Personally, I don’t see how this will come as much of a shock to the Dawg Pound. The Browns are still shades away from elite status in the AFC North, and ever since Red Right 88 (or before) it has been one step forward and two steps back for Cleveland.
Still, if Cleveland were to backpedal any faster this offseason, they may trip over Mike Holmgren’s medieval mustache in the process.
Actually, it’s funny we should mention Holmgren, because he could easily be blamed for half the problem, sending former coach Eric Mangini on his merry way was well and good two months ago—but where does that leave Pat Shurmur, a man who is without a solid quarterback just a month before the draft?
Exactly right, it leaves him in no man’s land. And with second-year starter Colt McCoy still developing his mechanics, missing an entire season would throw Shurmur’s entire offense into a whirlpool of relentless self-doubt.
So who can be used as a bright example, a team that won’t crumble like a supermarket cracker in the next 12 months?
I won’t state the obvious here, because it is clear that both Indianapolis and Pittsburgh will prevail, yet the Green Bay Packers are also an intriguing team to place under the scope after just hoisting the big one.
Like Pioli, credit Ted Thompson; he’s a mastermind of good judgment. The man not only drafted Aaron Rodgers after everybody turned their backs on him in the first round of 2005, he has also earned himself a new contract, which has now paved the way for coach Mike McCarthy.
"I want to thank the Green Bay Packers, especially Mark Murphy and Ted Thompson, for the continued commitment and confidence they have shown in our program," McCarthy said on Friday after reaching a new coaching deal.
McCarthy is right in thanking his team, as the Packers are one of few franchises to make the right decisions early this year.
It would have been easy to focus on the draft after winning the Super Bowl, but after just a month off, Green Bay have signed Thompson, McCarthy and linebacker A.J. Hawk to new deals...a great deal of success for an already-booming franchise.
Of course, this separates Green Bay from the rest. Lambeau Field is open to ideas in order to cover the costs next year should a lockout occur, but if one of the NFL’s most historic stadiums falls silent; it will speak highly of the situation in the league.
Please Note** Don’t suggest hosting a "Welcome Back Brett Favre Day’"either; something tells me that circus will roll around one day.
The final team on the list of strugglers is Tennessee, and with no Jeff Fisher steering the ship, the Titans may become a tangled mess at the end of 2011.
1. The Titans have no quarterback to rely on
Vince Young is as good as gone, Kerry Collins is aging (38) whilst also a free agent, and as for Rusty Smith, I’ve heard of people passing kidney stones with more accuracy.
2. The Titans have an inexperienced head coach
After replacing Fisher, Mike Munchak took over in Tennessee, a move that is questionable at the very least. Munchak has never been a head coach, and while he has paid his dues, his area of expertise is on the offensive line.
Munchak was with the team during the Houston Oilers days, but he is now taking over an entirely different franchise, which is building from bottom up.
3. The AFC South is tough
The AFC South is developing rapidly. The Colts are still top dogs, the Jaguars are escalating behind David Garrard and the Texans are still legitimate contenders despite a poor 2010.
Tennessee no longer has Fisher or Young to lend a hand, so I hope Chris Johnson can win a few games on his effort and footwork alone.
Above all else, Tennessee will struggle in all areas if the team falls apart. Titan fans are partially known for their loyalty, but they aren’t exactly those of the Oakland Raiders Black Hole.
If the team becomes a cellar dweller after a missed year and a lack of offensive chemistry, people will begin to lose interest.
Will the NFL reach a conclusion sometime soon?
Maybe, but according to DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA, the wheels are in motion, although speed bumps pop up like landmines at the drop of a hat.
"There's a commitment from both sides to engage in another round of negotiations at the request of the mediation service," Smith said. "We look forward to a deal coming out of that."
It may sound crazy, but that deal may mean the difference between a happy Sunday for NFL fans, or a miserable one spent contemplating how their team can survive in such an uncertain time.
Where is Detroit on this list? Jim Schwartz’s Lions will stand tall; they have built for the future, drafted early, and have a reasonable amount of cash to get by.
For now, it’s just one big waiting game, with nothing but hazy thoughts of the future to stew over. If there is a lockout, the NFL may be a much different league this time next year.
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Ryan Cook is an Australian Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a writer for Acme Packing Company. He is also a guest writer for PackerChatters.
Send him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.