x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Damage of the NFL lockout will be felt when season starts

If football is the beautiful game, American football could be the ugly stepchild this summer - and maybe into the fall.

DeMaurice Smith, left, the executive director of the NFL Players' Association, laughs at a comment made by Domonique Foxworth, centre, of the Baltimore Ravens, during a press conference to confirm the end of the NFL lockout.
DeMaurice Smith, left, the executive director of the NFL Players' Association, laughs at a comment made by Domonique Foxworth, centre, of the Baltimore Ravens, during a press conference to confirm the end of the NFL lockout.

If football is the beautiful game, American football could be the ugly stepchild this summer - and maybe into the fall.

For the next few weeks, perhaps months, the NFL will be scrambling to catch up after a lockout of four-and-a-half months that wiped out all off-season activities.

Dozens of players, particularly rookies or those whose coaching staffs have changed, have not yet seen playbooks.

The lockout also prevented players from working out at team facilities with team doctors and trainers, a key to staying in football shape.

"I think it's pretty much going to be a whirlwind," said Reggie Kelly, the Cincinnati Bengals tight end. "It's going to be a lot of not necessarily chaos, but it's not going to be an ideal type of situation. A lot of things are fast-forwarded.

"Obviously, we've never faced anything like this before. We never faced not having off-season training."

The catching-up process began yesterday when teams were allowed to start signing 2011 draft picks and rookie free agents. They also can begin making trades and have conversations with veteran free agents from all teams.

But no signings can occur until Friday, and there will be no window for teams to negotiate exclusively with their own veteran free agents.

"It's going to be like speed dating," said Joe Linta, an agent who represents several players. "I worry we won't have the time to think about it like before. And we can't sign until Friday and can't practice until Monday or Tuesday or so.

"Every coach will need a personal psychiatrist."

Of primary concern is that the standard of play might not match what the NFL usually provides, and that could be the biggest impact of the lockout.

"I don't think the product is going to be as good as early, especially if we have to play a preseason game, as it's scheduled, on a week's practice," said Larry Fitzgerald, the Arizona Cardinals receiver.

All 32 teams are expected to play their first exhibition games from August 11 to 15, after only a few practise sessions. "That's going to be tough," Fitzgerald said.

If fans thought pre-season games were hard to watch before, it could become worse.

"The first two weeks of exhibition games might look like college scrimmages," Kelly said.

"I think we have to be very careful with these training camp practices and preseason games. A lot of players don't have playbooks, a lot of young guys are not acclimated yet.

"You have to gradually work guys into the NFL system. I could see guys suffer a lot of injuries, a lot of miscues and blown assignments.

"That's not what you want out of NFL football. You want to give the fans a good, quality game. Even if you err on the side of caution, I think that's good."

The preseason schedule of four games has long been a bone of contention for season-ticket holders, who must pay regular-season prices for preseason games. Then again, they know what to expect.

"How much sloppier can it get?" said Ben Leber, the Minnesota Vikings linebacker. "You look at the first couple games of the preseason … the quality of play is to the point where nobody feels good about it. Now that we've missed all this off-season time, there are going to be even more growing pains for everybody."

With rookies and fringe players eager to impress, the prospect of injuries is greater than ever.

"The lack of off-season will seriously affect those that have not prepared on their own or at a facility," said Brian Martin, the chief executive of TEST Football Academies where dozens of NFL players train. "I believe it is roughly 50-50 with those who are workers and those who are not. Many rely on natural gifts, and they will be affected with the lack of mandatory conditioning."