NFL Owners Lockout: How Will Work Stoppage Affect Loaded 2011 Free-Agent Class?

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NFL Owners Lockout: How Will Work Stoppage Affect Loaded 2011 Free-Agent Class?
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With the NFL free agents not allowed any contact with any NFL teams and NFL coaches not allowed to engage in any team-related activities, the 2011 NFL free agent class may be the biggest story that no one is talking about right now.

With such a high level of talent, intrigue and unrest on the market right now just waiting to explode onto the market, it's only a matter of time before a new CBA (collective bargaining agreement) blows the whole thing up. There are players that are eager to move on and some that are highly coveted by their 2010 teams.

With guys like Sydney Rice, T.O., Nnamdi Asomugha, DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith (NYG), Matt Light, Cedric Benson, etc. all likely ready to go where the money takes them, the uncertainty of how long they'll all have to decide exactly where that is, is a cloud hanging over this whole fiasco.

So many teams that have a lot of holes to fill could use any number of these free agents, but many of those teams don't even have a full coaching staff with experience with one another. How do they decide who to go after if and when a deal gets done between the players and owners? How do new evaluating coaches know exactly what those holes are going to be in their new cities/locker rooms?

I don't envy the position of being an NFL general manager this season. They may face the hardest task they've ever faced in their careers when the season finally gets underway. These GMs have the task of going off of what they know from the season before, which will work for teams that will be running the same system they've run for years.

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What about teams like the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns, who have new head coaches who are implementing new systems with a new staff? How do they approach the free-agent market? How do they know where to start in filling the crater sized holes in their depth charts?

Then there are cases such as that of the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, who have a good idea as to just what they need to continue their upward climb to success but will have to swim the shark infested waters that are in the free-agent pool when everyone jumps in at once. How do they single out the guys they want when they have had virtually no contact with their staff to game-plan?

There are also guys out there like Larry Fitzgerald and Kevin Kolb, who aren't free agents but are clearly unhappy with their current situations and want out. With no time to lay down the foundation for trade talks or draft picks to bargain with—seeing as the 2011 draft will almost certainly pass before a new CBA is agreed upon—how can all parties be expected to find a common ground they can live with?

There are more than 50 notable free agents going into this upcoming season that many teams would normally be engaging in talks soon, if not already, who now face the gaping uncertainty of not knowing where their next check will come from or what city they will be living in when August comes around.

There are a lot of questions, and what's worse than that is that there are seemingly no answers for many of them. This whole free-agency situation could turn into a big lottery-style money grab, leaving a lot of teams and some players out in the cold this winter. It could also blow over, but the longer the courts take, the less likely that outcome is to be realized.

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Either way, with the obscene amount of money that the NFL makes for most who are involved with it is unprecedented by any other period in league history. This work stoppage can't be compared to the last one, because that was more than two decades ago.

The average starter-caliber free agent now probably makes around what the top paid guys in the NFL made in the 80s, if not a fair deal more. This is going to make this a sticky situation if the gap between the owners and players isn't bridged, and fast.

I wish great gobs of good luck to Roger Goodell and smooth sailing to DeMaurice Smith in getting a deal done. The future of your workforce may depend on it.

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