Imagine this on the first night of the 2011 NFL Draft in New York City:
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,
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.
And now for your mail:
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.
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 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.
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.