Rubin: Life after the NFL Lockout

The NFL Lockout is officially over and yes, it's time for some football!

By Dan Rubin 

Well it’s about time. The NFL Lockout is roughly over, done, yet, after a long few months of ongoing negotiations, as well as finger-pointing and name calling, America’s true pastime should be back in business as soon as later this week.

I can’t even begin to understand the legal speak of the new NFL collective bargaining agreement, but I can say this – there will be a $120 million salary cap this year, rookies won’t make nearly as much as they used to and the league is expected to sign the agreement for the next 10-years, meaning there won’t be another potential labor battle until most of today’s players are retired.

So what does this mean for the players of today? Undrafted free agents can finally start readying their NFL prospects, free agents can start checking in with agents to determine interested teams, and, most importantly, contracted players will by Wednesday, appear at stadiums and training camps to get ready for the 2011 season.

Various thoughts have been heard and voiced about what life will be like after the lockout and here are some of those thoughts.

Does Matthew Stafford deserve so much money?

It’s not as catastrophic if your rookie first round pick doesn’t pan out: This was one of the bigger items in CBA negotiations. In 2009, Matthew Stafford was the first overall pick in the NFL Draft by the winless Detroit Lions. The Lions awarded Stafford with a six-year contract that included $41.7 million guaranteed, a then record.  The next year, in 2010, Sam Bradford went first overall to the St. Louis Rams.  Bradford’s contract, also for six years, carried a price tag of up to $86 million, which practically translates to almost $12 million per year.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, Carson Palmer’s contract, which he signed back in 2005 increased annually to a max salary of about $14 million in 2014. That means that Palmer is making roughly the same amount of money as Bradford heading into this season. Palmer, also a first pick overall in 2003, played in the league for almost eight seasons before he made the same amount of money Bradford was awarded for being drafted.

Bradford has no track record, yet giving him that particular deal is so hit-or-miss that it could have cost the Rams a solid decade of success if he didn’t (or doesn’t, since it’s only been one year) pan out.

With the rookie contracts scaled way back, the Carolina Panthers are able to avoid that risk with Cam Newton. The Panthers have the ability to lock up Newton for less money than he commanded under the old terms and it gives them the financial freedom to spend on other areas of need. The Panthers enter the training camp/offseason with $30.6 million in free cap space. Nearly half of that would’ve gone to Newton under the old CBA.

Today, it will be much less, and it not only allows them to address other needs, but it won’t set the franchise back nearly if Newton fails to succeed in the next four to five years.

We’ll either see total parity this year or we won’t see any parity this year: In the last few years the NFL migrated away from total parity to a league where there were roughly two-to-four elite teams and seven-to-nine solid or good teams, with everyone else being lousy.  Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and New Orleans were the truly elite last season, especially since two of those teams won Super Bowls in ’09 and ’10.

Those squads were followed by a bunch of teams that put up good or great stats, but always seemed to be lacking in one or two fundamental areas.

For example, the New England Patriots finished the 2010 season [14-2], but had issues on both the offense and defense. They rarely got penetration to the quarterback at key moments and it always felt like the defense was holding on as opposed to attacking like they did in earlier years. Likewise, the New York Jets defense was unreal, but their offense – well, let’s just say that Mark Sanchez is not Peyton Manning, capable of winning any game at any given moment.

With the lack of preparation and time in team facilities before the season actually begins in September, there’s going to be a slight decline in performance, based solely on a team’s ability to create chemistry. Free agency often provides enough time with the offseason workouts and training camp to build chemistry and get players acclimated to new surroundings. Although the abbreviated time means some players are going to know new schemes, while others will need to adapt on the fly.

All in all, it should be an interesting start to the season. Expect the first few weeks of September to possibly dictate the entire season.

Free Agency is going to be the wild, Wild West, only with contracts instead of guns:  It’s crazy to think that free agency is going to be wilder than it usual, especially since every year some team overpays a player who’s not that good. This whole process takes place over a four-to-five month interval, but this season, it’s going to be condensed into a two-to-three week period.

I can imagine a team like Tampa Bay, who went [10-6] last season and barely missed the playoffs going “hog-wild” with their nearly $60 million in salary cap space. They’ll be able to just throw contracts at any players who want to earn a ginormous paycheck. Yet, what exactly does that accomplish? Could buying outdated free agents help a team win a Super Bowl?

Although, going back to what I originally stated, there’s a chance the free agent market in its shortened sense wouldn’t allow contracts to inflate. It means many players might end up getting underpaid. Some players might be more eager to sign because of the short period, so they won’t miss opening day.

The free agency period, which is usually wilder, is going to magnify the two extremes of its spectrum. I just can’t wait to see how crazy some teams go, how crazy some players get and how it plays out in the first couple of days. Watch for teams to get things done sooner rather than later because of the chemistry issues, which could make or break a season.

How long will Tom Brady's hair be this season?

It feels really good to talk about actual football transactions and not watch Sal Paolontonio outside of a hotel in New York, Minnesota or Boston: I’ve gotten rather tired of watching my man, Sal report constantly on the same information. Not that I have anything against him, but the constant barrage of legal speak and sniping from the NFL bargaining agreement talks was leaving me weary. Like the fans at the NFL Draft, I just want football.

We just want to see our favorite players in their helmets, something we’ve been denied since February. We want to be in pro shop lines spending money and we want to be reading stories about players getting ready to get back to work. Football was relegated over the last few months to courtroom drama, legal haggling and labor speak.

Now, finally, it can be about teams wearing pads and helmets, cracking some skulls, (but not too hard because we don’t want concussions, right?), and sweating in the heat.

We’re ready for Tom Brady’s hair to flow out the back of his helmet, not be tied into a ponytail for a mariachi festival in Brazil this past year. We’re ready for Brandon Meriweatherto be the crazy safety ready to pop someone in the mouth, not make rap singles on Boston radio. We’re ready to hate Peyton Manning and we’re ready to hear about Brett Favre’s latest comeback, (actually…no we’re not.  Please, Brett, stay retired and don’t go be a backup in Philadelphia). We’re ready for the thunderous sound of CBS and Fox themes, and we’re ready to hear the intense sounds of a John Williams-Sunday Night Football theme on NBC.

Call up Hank Williams Jr. because we’re ready for some football!

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