Roger Goodell walks across the stage at Radio City Music Hall at the start of round one, steps to the microphone and says, "Welcome to the 2011 NFL Draft. With the first pick of the draft, the Carolina Panthers select Blaine Gabbert, quarterback, Missouri.'' Less than a mile away, at a Times Square Hotel, Gabbert stands, shakes hands with some of his prospective draftees, and walks up on another stage, where future Panthers teammates Jordan Gross and Steve Smith greet him with hugs.
Minutes pass. "With the second pick of the 2011 NFL Draft,'' Goodell says, "the Denver Broncos select Marcell Dareus, defensive tackle, Alabama.'' Dareus walks onstage across town, and future mates Elvis Dumervil and Champ Bailey hug him.
You get the picture. Under a plan now under consideration -- and those are the key words, now under consideration, because the idea isn't set in stone yet -- the decertified NFL Players Association would ask top picks to skip the annual NFL draft party and pre-draft events to attend a separate event organized by players. I am told the prospective rookies won't be ordered to do this. But the suggestion would be a strong one to rookies-to-be and their agents.
That's right, players who aren't in the NFL yet and haven't paid a dime of union dues could be the latest pawns in the fight between the owners and players over a new collective bargaining agreement. The decertified union is looking into getting veterans from every team to show up in New York, so that when the college players are drafted, they'll all have a future teammate, not the commissioner, greet them.
Will it work? One agent with several prospective first-round picks thinks it will, telling me this morning: "What is the first round of the draft for the NFL? It's a TV show, a show that makes the league a lot of money. They're going to be asking young men to shake the hand of a commissioner [Roger Goodell] who is trying to lock them out. They're going to be asking young men to help the league put on this big TV production. And I can tell you this: There're a few quarterbacks who could get picked high in this draft and the NFL will invite to New York. All those quarterbacks would do by attending the draft for the NFL is giving DeMarcus Ware more incentive to knock their blocks off the first time they line up across the line of scrimmage from him.''
He's right, and we probably won't hear the real sentiment from prospective high draftees when and if they stand in solidarity with their future teammates and opponents. But you can bet that a bunch of them will feel deprived of a moment they've dreamed of for a long time, the opportunity to walk across stage on national TV to shake the commissioner's hand and get the hats of their future teams put on their heads.
And based on the initial reaction from fans, this won't garner the players any public support. Since the Super Bowl, fans have had one oasis from the constant drumbeat of labor talk and lockouts -- the draft. The draft would go on as normal, fans were told. And yes, now it appears players will be drafted. But the TV show likely will not go on as normal. Nothing, it seems, will be exempt from the acrimony of football business this offseason.
Tony Pauline: Agents react to NFLPA's planned draft event
And now for your mail:
INTERESTING QUESTION. "Peter, help me understand why the owners decided to impose a lockout after the union decertified, because it looks to me like they just stepped in the players' trap. Now they have to go in front of a judge who tends to side with the players to face antitrust allegations, and considering the NFL's atrocious court history, I'd wager that the owners will lose, potentially costing them hundreds of millions of dollars, AND any leverage they had in the negotiations, just so they could lock the players out. Why not just keep negotiating but NOT imposing a lockout? What do the owners risk by not locking them out that's worse than a likely loss in antitrust court?'' -- Chris Jones, Huntsville, Ala.
Because in negotiations -- particularly those between two sides with major issues between them -- you never really negotiate a true deal 'til there's pressure, 'til there's something to lose.
IT COULD HAPPEN. WHO KNOWS? SHANAHAN LIKES VETS. "Why not Tiki Barber to the Redskins? They have a need at running back and historically have liked signing older, past their prime, big names to nice contracts. I am actually very interested in seeing how Tiki does in a comeback. Starting running backs take a beating. Usually enough of one that they barely have time to recover in the offseason. If a back were to take a season off, or part of a season off to fully recover, would they be able to extend their career? If Tiki can be productive at 36, after four years off, do you think teams might consider trying to have multiple starting running backs and actually have them sit for weeks of the season or a full season to extend their careers?''-- Michael, Dallas
I've always thought backs should sit in meaningless games. Just common sense to try to extend their careers and to try to stay free of some of the big hits. That's why you've seen more and more teams go to the two-back system. My whole point about Barber was that since he was incredibly durable and productive at 31, and wouldn't cost you much to have him in camp at 36, why not do it?
INTERESTING QUESTION ABOUT WHO THE LOCKOUT COULD HURT. "Thanks for your insight. Although I hate hearing about the labor dispute, I can't help but wonder who this might impact on the field. For instance, everyone was saying Tim Tebow needs time to develop and learn muscle memory. After watching the documentary about how hard he works, do you think a lockout will provide him time to "catch up"? Who might you see a potential work stoppage also benefiting in terms of player development, coming back from injury, etc? Keep up the good work.''--Andrew, Rockford, Ill.
Thanks for the kind words. Really, all the developmental players will be hurt, as well as players who are rehabbing major injuries (Charles Woodson) and not able to see team medical officials to monitor their progress. I talked to one GM at the combine about a player who was rehabbing a torn ACL, and he said he just had to hope -- this player is not a classic worker bee -- he rehabs the right way. If not, it's going to hurt him whenever players do return to either training camp or games.
I AM NOT SURPRISED. "I've been playing cards with the same group of 16 guys once a month for the past three years. We are all avid NFL fans and discuss our teams and the league every game. As luck would have it, we played the day after the talks ended. I wanted to let you know that not one person was on the side of the players. Not that we were pro owners, we were simply just disgusted with the players.
Over the past few years, several of us have been laid off, others have taken reduction in pay. Not once did we demand to see our company's financials. We simply worked harder, either at our current jobs or finding new jobs, to support our families. I doubt it comes to this, but if things get as bad as they were during the strike, you will find me at Fed Ex field every Sunday cheering the replacement players on the Redskins. And I'm a Cowboys fan.''-- Dave, Leesburg, Va.
It won't come to that because the networks learned their lesson in 1987; they won't televise replacement games. But I hear you. You're not alone.