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As lockout looms, NFL teams grappling with D-Day planning

Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we ease our way into an NFL offseason that increasingly feels like the quiet (2010) before the storm (2011)...

As the league's looming labor issues begin demanding more of our attention, I'm increasingly intrigued by how NFL teams will deal internally with the possibility of no football games in 2011. Looking past how a work stoppage would affect the fans and players for a moment, consider how it would impact the folks who derive their main or ancillary income from the NFL.

What would the coaches do with no players to coach? What would the team broadcasters broadcast with no games to call? And what about the scouts and the personnel men? I suppose if you're on the college side of scouting, your job continues unchanged. But if there's no pro game being played, what do the pro personnel men evaluate? And then there are the dozens of people in every organization who make up the team's support staff. The secretaries, public relations officials, trainers, equipment men and so forth.

Know this: Almost from the moment the owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement in the spring of 2008, starting the clock on the labor showdown to come next year, teams have been grappling with their own versions of such D-Day planning. In many cases, especially those involving coaches, contracts have been written to include two versions of a 2011 salary scale: one with the games being played, one without. Some currently employed coaches simply have no contract for 2011, and have that window built into their deals.

Rest assured, all these folks are avidly following the league's labor situation, hoping for some kind of 11th hour breakthrough between the players and owners. Their paychecks, or at least part of them, may be on the line.

Every team is different, but one AFC club official I talked to said his organization has planned a range of potential responses to a work stoppage next year. Player personnel officials could have their salaries cut by as much as 50 percent. Coaches could face the same reduction, depending on how their contracts are written. Scouts will fare better, because they'd still be working the college game and preparing for the next draft. They might only face a 25 percent cut in pay.

As for the support staff, the club official said the team's owner has decided he won't lay anyone off during a work stoppage, even keeping the team broadcasters on the payroll at some level if there are no games to work next year.

For most teams, the planning is a multi-pieced puzzle that continues to be assembled.

"It's obvious that everyone has looked at what their costs are in 2011, with football or no football,'' said an NFC club official. "Ultimately it's going to depend on how severe things are, and the length of time you're not playing games. You've got to know your variable costs and your fixed costs, and look at what your obligations are for next year.

"A lot depends on whether or not you have your coaches, scouts and personnel men under contracts. I think there's a reason why a lot of head coaches who were on the bubble this past season didn't get fired. If you could avoid it, you really didn't want to be paying two coaching staffs at the same time in 2011. Especially if you had a situation where the coaches who were fired were making more than those who are working for you.''

Both sides, of course, have been stressing preparation for what might come in 2011. As a correlation to what the clubs have planned, the NFL Players Association has been counseling players to save at least 25 to 50 percent of their salaries in 2009 and 2010, as a war chest of sorts. The hope is that all the planning winds up being unnecessary, but at this point there's little cause for optimism.

"There's no question that planning is being done,'' a league source said. "Any intelligent business person who is facing various scenarios always thinks ahead and does the what-ifs. If there's a team that hasn't got a 2011 plan done yet, they're going to be doing one very shortly.''

• I didn't see it for the masterstroke it was at the time, but leave it to Bill Belichick and the Patriots to out-think everyone else in the NFL once again. By getting blown out at home by Baltimore in the first round of the playoffs, New England craftily avoided being one of the league's final eight playoff teams, and thus has full maneuverability in this year's uncapped free-agency period.

Even better for the Pats, one of their division rivals, the Jets, went to the postseason's final four, and thus have the ultimate restrictions placed on them in free agency. New York can't sign an unrestricted free agent unless it loses one of its own of equal or greater value.

All satire aside, New England is in decent shape, thanks in part to losing in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since the Pete Carroll era. The Patriots have four picks in the draft's first two rounds, and that could mean they have the ammo to go after someone they really like in this year's deeper-than-ever restricted free agent market, where part of the price tag is draft pick compensation.

• Talking with club officials about free agency this week, the name that came up most was Julius Peppers. Everyone wants to know where the soon-to-be-ex-Carolina Panthers defensive end might land. The Patriots and Eagles are thought to be the most interested parties, but one league source I talked with thinks Peppers will be sorely disappointed if he believes New England intends to offer him top dollar.

"If he's going for the big money, Peppers never signs with the Patriots,'' the league source said. "If it's about winning and he's willing to take less to play in New England, maybe he ends up there. But he doesn't sound like the type who's willing to take the discount. And really, can you go to New England and know you're going to win these days? It's not the given it was maybe three or four years ago, when Randy Moss went there. It's been five years since they've won a Super Bowl.''TUCKER: Peppers may not be worth top dollar

Quote of the Week: From one NFL general manager, predicting that this year's large group of restricted free agents will see little movement, due to the draft pick compensation it'll take to acquire them:

"You're going to give up picks and a ton of money, in one of the deeper drafts in years? All I'll say is the founding fathers knew what they were doing when they built [the fourth- and fifth-year restricted free agent clause] into the final year of the CBA a long time ago.''

• With this year's NFL draft assuming a three-day format for the first time, some within the league believe value will be added to the first pick in the second round (which opens Day 2 of the draft), and the first pick in the fourth round (which opens Day 3), much like with the opening pick of the draft's second day (the first selection of the third round) in recent years.

"You get to kind of sleep on things and see the whole board anew that next day, and that always seems to make that first pick more valuable,'' a club executive said. "If you really like a guy, you're motivated to try to go get him right away. Those opening second- and fourth-round picks have a little more value in this format.''

• Here's one veteran agent's early, early reading of where the issues stand that will define the league's labor showdown:

"The owners are asking for a rookie wage scale, and the players will cave on that at some point because the veteran players aren't opposed to it. I'm not sure how the 18-game regular-season schedule is going to go, but the league will have some enticements to get them to go along with it.

"The 18 percent pay cut (or cost recognition, in the words of Roger Goodell) is going to be tough, but there's a number in the middle that both sides can probably accept. It's getting the players to help pay for building new stadiums that will be the biggest problem. That's not the way it has historically worked in labor. They're the workers. The owners supply the capital. That's always been the model. I'm not sure how you get around that one.''

Here's guessing those words turn out to be pretty prescient.

• There's a growing sub-set within the NFL that should give hope to new Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, and for that matter, Kevin Gilbride, Bill Sheridan and Steve Spagnuolo, too: Earlier this month, Saints head coach Sean Payton became the fifth ex-Giants coordinator to win a Super Bowl as a head coach.

The others? Not a bad lineup: Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. Those four are all multiple winners, and have earned nine Super Bowl rings between them. Payton's win makes it an even 10 titles for the ex-G-Men Coordinator Club.

• Please explain to me why anyone should even care about what Pacman Jones is up to these days. As his tryout in Cincinnati the other day illustrated yet again, he can't play anymore. If he could, he'd still be in the Cowboys' secondary. The chucklehead wasted his talent, and blew his career. End of sad story.

• I wonder if anyone in New Orleans is the least bit mournful that the Saints have forever forfeited the lovable loser tag they wore so well, for so long? I think not. Ask a Red Sox fan if he or she is nostalgic for those pre-2004 days, when the franchise was known mostly for heartbreak and near-misses.

• If you're scoring at home, the NFL's just-completed decade included a 7-3 record for the AFC in the Super Bowl, but a 2-1 mark for the NFC in the last three championship games, courtesy of the Giants (2007) and Saints (2009). Seven teams won Super Bowls in the decade: The Ravens, Patriots (three), Bucs, Steelers (two), Colts, Giants and Saints.

That tied the 1990s for the most champions in a single decade. The 1970s and 1980s featured just five different Super Bowl champs each.

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