By the time you read this, the NFL lockout could be nearing its end as talks between the league and union pick up. Of course, it seems perfectly possible that there will have been a WWE-style cage match between Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith instead.
Even if the lockout ends before training camp begins, the damage it's left behind is severe.
Organized Team Activities, otherwise known as OTAs, have been lost. It may not seem like much since contact isn't allowed and no veteran will complain about missing it, but the rookies have suffered a big setback.
This was a time for rookies to get a foundation under their belts for the way the league works. Learn the playbook, day-to-day procedures, coaches' expectations and styles—the list goes on and on. As Mike Tomlin said last year, "The purpose of the offseason is to instruct. Organized team activity days are just that. They're for teaching."
This lack of teaching will prove costly in the later-round picks' quest to make the team.
Want proof? Look no further than last year's fourth-round pick, Thaddeus Gibson. Now with San Francisco, he got the axe to keep Aaron Smith's roster spot because he didn't have a chance to participate in OTAs. Rules stated that he couldn't show up until he graduated. Linebackers coach Keith Butler referenced the situation after drafting Chris Carter this April. He said that the team got "very little" time with Gibson early on, and by the time training camp rolled around, he was far behind.
Sure, all rookies on the team will be at the same disadvantage, but when compared to the veterans on the team, they're well behind. At least the veterans know the process from previous seasons and there aren't any coaching changes for them to adjust to.
Fans want Curtis Brown to be a starter this year or at least make a significant contribution on defense, but that'll be next to impossible if he doesn't get his feet wet until August. Anthony Madison isn't remotely close to being as talented, but the sheer fact that he has more knowledge of Dick LeBeau's playbook gives him the upper hand.
Will Chris Carter suffer the same fate as Gibson? Will Baron Batch be able to make a team that is likely to only carry three running backs? How long will it take Cameron Heyward to get a contract agreed upon? He could lose even more time than the other drafted rookies.
Don't even get me started on the undrafted players. Their already slim chances are dwindling away with each passing day.
The offseason is supposed to be about teaching. Instead, it's been nothing but empty classrooms.