2011 NFL Lockout: How the Work Stoppage Affects the Cleveland Browns

Samantha BuntenAnalyst IMarch 23, 2011

2011 NFL Lockout: How the Work Stoppage Affects the Cleveland Browns

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    Colt McCoyMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    To state the obvious, the NFL lockout isn't a good situation for anyone. Whether it's the owners, the league, the players, the staff or the fans, no one is deriving any pleasure from the present state of the NFL.

    Work stoppages in professional sports don't usually have a "winner", per se. The distinction made usually winds up being about designating who loses the most. 

    All parties involved will insist they're suffering more than everyone else. Whether it's the fans, the owners, or the players, everyone thinks they got the shortest end of a very short stick. While the fans are certainly the only one of those three parties who bear no responsibility for the problem, it's still not accurate to say they're the only ones who suffer from this, even when considering the (very valid) argument that the other two groups brought the suffering on themselves. 

    But beyond the debate over whether the owners or the fans or the players suffer the most, lies a more interesting and nuanced question of lockout-induced suffering. That is, which team(s) stand to lose the most as a result of the 2011 lockout? 

    Obviously, this situation is bad for every team in the league. But might it perhaps be just a bit worse for some than for others? 

    The following piece examines the Browns' involvement in lockout issues, including how the lockout affects and involves the Browns specifically in an attempt to pinpoint the problems caused by the lockout that are unique to the team as well as to determine whether the Browns are hurt more by the lockout than other teams.

1. New Coaching Regime Under Lockout Conditions

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    Pat ShurmurSean Gardner/Getty Images

    Per the rules of a lockout, players and teams may have no contact with one another. That means no practice, no contract negotiations, no trades, no free agent signings and no team meetings. Certainly every team in the league will suffer as a result of this, but such conditions are particularly handicapping for teams with a new coach and a new playbook this offseason.

    Pat Shurmur and his staff would already have had their work cut out for them this offseason without a lockout. It takes time for a new coach to get to know his players and bond with them. It takes time for a new coach to devise a new playbook and for his players to learn and become comfortable with it. It might take a whole offseason. 

    But in a lockout, teams in this situation won't have a whole offseason to work on these things. They may not have any offseason at all. 

    Such is the sad case for the Browns under new coach Pat Shurmur and his assistants. The Browns players and their new coaches haven't had much time at all to get familiar with one another, much less work together to devise a new playbook. 

    This will be especially bad for the defense, going from a 3-4 defensive scheme to a 4-3 this season. That's a huge change in defensive approach at any time, and an even bigger one under lockout conditions.

    We would have expected an adjustment period for the Browns under a new coaching regime no matter what off-field issues existed, but thanks to the lockout, the Browns may wind up having to deal with that adjustment period largely during the season, rather than being able to get past some of it in the preceding offseason. This makes the lockout a bigger blow to teams like the Browns who are under new management than it will be to teams whose staff and playbook were already well-established in 2010.

2. Young Players Locked Out

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    Colt McCoyMatt Sullivan/Getty Images

    Similarly, the effects of a lockout hurt young players more than seasoned veterans, and the Browns are a team depending on youngsters for 2011 as much as anyone. 

    Just as a lockout that takes away the offseason makes it difficult for new coaches and their teams to weather the adjustment period, it also takes away valuable practice and instruction time for young players who still have a lot to learn. 

    Veteran players know how things work. They understand strategy, how to adapt to a new playbook or improve their game within an old one, and know how to approach offseason workouts and training without supervision—all things critical for a player in a locked out offseason looking to avoid losing a step and letting his play slip in the upcoming season. 

    Young players don't have that kind of familiarity with how to proceed alone if they have to, despite that being exactly what they'll have to do during the lockout. They need instruction and supervision as they try to make offseason progress and continue to learn the ins and outs of the game. 

    Granted, it is foolish to think that this was entirely ignored by either the players or their coaches in the weeks leading up to the lockout. It's a good bet that Mike Holmgren and his coaches did an 11th hour handoff of workout programs to veteran leaders on the team so that someone would be overseeing the other players and keeping them on a proper program, particularly the youngsters. 

    Still, just because some sort of contingency plan for offseason workouts is likely in effect doesn't mean the young players won't come up short in their instruction. I'm sure Colt McCoy was discreetly given a weight room and conditioning program to follow during the lockout, but the secret plots, so to speak, probably end there. I highly doubt McCoy and Holmgren are holed up in a cave together somewhere drawing up plays in the dirt with sticks.

3. Momentum Killer for Teams on the Rise

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    Peyton HillisMatt Sullivan/Getty Images

    The Browns exited 2010, and prepared to enter 2011, as a team on the rise. They're a group that is young motivated, talented and determined. They finished 2010 with a lot of work to do to get to where they need to be in the future, but also as a team on the upswing with tremendous potential. 

    Then, as the team was in the midst of catching fire and starting to take off, BAM! A lockout. Talk about a momentum killer. 

    Sure, this situation is disheartening and discouraging for any team, but it is particularly harmful to teams on the rise and in the midst of a big, big improvement. Teams on the decline, by contrast, don't have that kind of killer momentum to lose, and teams who are in a period of established success are better equipped to ride out the storm without too much regression.

    Rising teams like the Browns stand to lose much more than just offseason workouts and practices from the things that should have been helping them go from potentially successful to a proven success, because the situation also snaps the rolling, building momentum that drives teams on the brink to push their way over the hump. 

    The Browns appear to be a notably hardworking, cohesive, and determined squad, so perhaps they will be able to regain momentum better than most teams in their situation would. But there's no denying the potential setback the lockout may have on the Browns' ability to retain and build on that mindset.

4. Knocking the Wind out of the Fans

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    Browns fans have been through a lot over the years. The Drive. Ernest Byner's epic goal line fumble. Art Modell's theft of the team followed by years without any football in town. A seemingly endless playoff drought. Braylon Edwards. And now, just as it appeared that maybe, just maybe, things were going to get better for the Dawg faithful, there's a lockout.

    In some ways, the Browns have less to worry about (with regard to their fans) resulting from a lockout than most teams. The Browns will likely have less work to do to win back their fans after the lockout ends than most organizations. This fan base would be the last one to walk away and abandon its team. If Browns fans were going to walk away when faced with adversity, frustration, or heartbreak, they would have done so 20 times already. 

    Instead, they just keep coming and have always refused to abandon their team even when it seemed insane not to. After all, Cleveland was still overrun with Browns fans even after Modell stole the team and skipped away to Baltimore, making them perhaps the only hugely loyal and highly populated fan base ever for a team that didn't even exist. 

    But just because the fans won't abandon ship doesn't mean they won't be hurt by the lockout. As mentioned previously, teams on the rise are hurt the most by a lockout. That extends to a team's fan base as well. Just when we thought our team was finally turning it around, they wind up locked out and in position to suffer all the setbacks that go along with that. 

5. Powerful Mid-Lockout Message from an Unlikely Source

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    Scott FujitaChris Graythen/Getty Images

    With the greed coming from both sides of the labor dispute overshadowing all the other issues that led to the lockout, it is easy to lose track of some of the other topics on the table that are important for the league to resolve. 

    One such issue is the NFL pension plan. Players have taken issue with the meager pension checks they receive once retired, and they probably have every right to. In a game where serious injuries (including brain damage) are a very real possibility, players should receive enough pension money to pay medical bills for any health problems down the road that result from their playing days. This isn't a greed issue; it's a safety issue. 

    Interestingly, the most compelling argument in favor of increased pension and health care for players after retirement came not from a former or current player, but from a player's wife. 

    In an example of the Browns' specific involvement in the lockout goings-on, Jaclyn Fujita, wife of the Browns' Scott Fujita, wrote a tremendously powerful plea to the league to do right by its alumni and make sure they have the means to get adequate medical care later in life for any injuries they may have sustained while in the employ of the NFL. 

    Obviously, this is an issue that may affect every player and every team, but it's worth noting that it was the wife of a Browns' player who said it best. 

    You can read Jaclyn Fujita's piece here and see for yourself.

6. What's Going On in the Owners Box?

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    Randy LernerIan Walton/Getty Images

    Having looked at how the lockout affects the Browns players, it's also worth examining the role our ownership has played in this. 

    Many teams' owners have been outspoken and clear about their strong opposition to the NFLPA's requests. Comments from the Patriots' owner about Tom Brady's filing suit against the league is ugly proof of that. There have been many similar incidents around the league. 

    So what then of Browns owner Randy Lerner, who has been, at least by comparison, pretty quiet about the whole situation?

    If you see the owners as the villains in this situation, then obviously Lerner would have to be no exception. Still, it's interesting to speculate on how he feels, since some of his actions indicate some sympathy for at least the fan base, even if not for the other side.

    The Browns, like a few other teams around the league, have taken measures to appease fans and their cities as much as they can under current conditions. The Browns have promised there will be no layoffs for staff, and have promised season ticket holders a refund AND interest if games are canceled during the 2011 season.

    It's hard to say how much of this was Lerner's doing specifically, but he certainly would have had some say-so in the matter.

    It's also worth noting how uninvolved Lerner is in the league's ownership committees compared to his colleagues. Tony Grossi reported in yesterday's Plain Dealer that Lerner is "the only one of the 32 owners who does not sit on a single committee".

    Does this mean Lerner is secretly in league with the players during the lockout? Of course not. But it does make you stop and wonder if perhaps he wasn't one of those spearheading the proceedings that ultimately led to the lockout.  

7. One Good Thing Resulting from the Lockout

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    Mike HolmgrenMatt Sullivan/Getty Images

    It's a stretch to say anything good can come of an NFL work stoppage, especially if the season winds up being shortened because of it. 

    But as Browns fans, there is one small advantage we get from this that we can take comfort in. That is simply that teams that draft well fare better under lockout conditions than those whose poor drafting forces them to rely largely on free agency to fill their needs. 

    The Browns under Mike Holmgren draft exceptionally well. This means that for them, it becomes an advantage that the free agent signing period won't happen until after the draft. Because they draft so well, they have the opportunity to fill their needs that way first, and then plug holes with more expensive (and probably more short-lived) solutions acquired through free agency afterward. 

    The lockout prevents anyone from signing free agents at this point. This gives teams the opportunity to fill needs through the draft first before having to fork over huge wads of cash to free agents. The deal is even better if the rookie wage scale goes into effect, making the already cheaper way to build a team even more so. 

    For teams that don't draft well, this one hurts. They won't have the luxury of getting the jump on the best free agents while other teams wait to see what they can get out of the draft first. But for teams like the Browns, who can be confident in how well they draft, it simply gives them the advantage of not having to snap up expensive free agents before someone else does early in the offseason while wondering if they could have solved the problem in the draft. 

    Obviously this slight advantage for the Browns in no way makes the lockout a good thing by any stretch of the imagination. But it does provide the team at least one small leg up over others. As fans, we can take at least a tiny bit of solace in this as we wait and hope that there will be football in 2011. 

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