Make no mistake about it, a work stoppage isn’t going to help any NFL team if, as expected, owners lock out players on March 4.
But when it comes to the potential loss of an offseason, or a shortened training camp, or an abbreviated free agency period, not all teams will be affected equally. And to the Seattle Seahawks, a lockout would almost certainly represent a major setback for a team only a year into a major overhaul under head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider.
Enjoy watching these playoff games today and the Super Bowl in February (and if you’re into meaningless football, the Pro Bowl too), because by all accounts we’re heading for the ugly part of professional sports once the current collective bargaining agreement expires on March 4.
And for the Seahawks, even more so than most teams, that would be a very bad thing. If this past season — the first under the leadership of Carroll and Schneider — showed anything, it was that they aren’t the type to sit on their hands and be happy with what they have. The Seahawks made 284 transactions, an absurdly high amount, and while Carroll said he doesn’t see that happening again, there is a lot he and Schneider would like to do to better the team.
“I know John and I are both a little frustrated by that,” Carroll said. “We’d like to get to work and get going. You know how active we are so I don’t know what we’re going to do with each other — pick up some new hobbies or something, I don’t know.”
It’s not just adding new players that could be affected by a lockout either. Of the 66 players who finished the season on Seattle’s active roster or injured reserve, 27 are currently not under contract for next season, including starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Carroll and Schneider hope to get some players signed before a potential lockout, eliminating some of the mystery in the offseason, because if a lockout were to extend into late summer or early fall, it will be difficult for teams to make significant additions in free agency.
“Free agency is a total question mark right now,” Carroll said. “We don’t have any idea what’s going to happen. We may have one week to do free agency somewhere in August, we may have a normal time period — we don’t know. So we just have to be ready for it. If it doesn’t present itself as the opportunity that we need, then we’re going to develop from within and we’ll develop through the draft and do the things that we can do.”
A lack of free agency would also change the way the Seahawks and every other team approach the draft. Rather than head into April’s draft knowing what needs they have already filled through free agency, teams would be drafting with a lot more holes on their rosters.
Teams that changed coaching staffs are also at a disadvantage, and while the Seahawks have the same head coach, the fact they are changing their offense again could be problematic if training camp is shortened or eliminated. The hiring of Darrell Bevell as the new offensive coordinator, however, should ease the transition, particularly if the Seahawks do in fact retain Hasselbeck. Bevell, who spent the past five years as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator, runs a version of the West Coast offense that is similar to the one Hasselbeck knows from spending the first 11 years of his career under Mike Holmgren. Bevell has coached under Brad Childress and Mike Sherman, both of whom come from Holmgren’s coaching tree.
As for the players, they are at this point resigned to the fact that a lockout is coming. Players are for the most part happy with the system as it is, but owners want to change the way the league’s profits are distributed, and are also pushing for an 18-game season, which almost every player opposes.
“The owners are very serious at this point,” safety Lawyer Milloy said. “The one thing that the public needs to know is that, when you hear lockout, the players want to play, it’s the owners that lock you out. That’s the message that I want everybody on the outside that might not know the situation. If you think the players are being greedy, no this is the owners chance to recoup some money or do whatever they want to do. We want to play football, we like the direction that the league is going in. Money is being made, but it’s something we have to deal with.”
And in a league that already has short careers and injuries that lead to long-term health problems, players are adamantly against the idea of adding two games to the regular season.
“It is a big issue,” Milloy said a day after teammates John Carlson and Marcus Trufant had to spend the night in a Chicago hospital with concussions sustained in the season-ending playoff loss to the Bears. “When you see two of our players knocked out unconscious, casualties of war, and you want to add two more grueling games to that? The average (career) right now is what, 3.7 years? … Health issues are at the highest I’ve ever seen them in the league, and it just doesn’t make sense. Make it make sense. You want to add two more games to that? People on the outside might not think it’s much, but if they could feel how my body feels.”
Milloy, who at 37 has played much longer than vast majority of his peers, then added, “Does it make our game better? I’d have to argue no.”
Throughout the season, veterans preached to young players that they needed to save money, telling them to wait on any big-ticket purchases such as a new house until after a new CBA is reached. And it goes beyond money for the players. A lockout would mean a loss of insurance and the ability to rehabilitate injuries with team doctors at team facilities.
“On my end, really all we’re doing is sharing information with the guys and their wives, letting them know, ‘Hey, March 4th, your health insurance is gone and you need to get COBRA or whatever,’” Hasselbeck said. “Especially for the guys who have wives that are pregnant, stuff like that. For the guys that are on IR and need to rehab and get better, March 4th you’re not allowed in the building, so you can’t do rehab here. You’ve got to find somewhere to go.”
But while a lockout won’t be good for any team, particularly one in as much of a state of transition as the Seahawks, Hasselbeck does see one way in which the Seahawks could come out of a lockout ahead of other teams.
“It’s an opportunity for teams that have good leadership in their locker room and guys with good work ethic, it’s a chance for those teams to get better,” he said. “Because there are going to be some guys that are driven, and they’re going to get organized and they’re going to be together and work out, and they don’t need the structure that we always have. And then there are other teams where guys don’t have that on their own; they need somebody kicking them in their butt to do their job. I think with the makeup of this locker room, this team’s got a chance to compete and get better in this kind of uncharted territory and this weird offseason that we’re going to have.”