Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The lockout and player-only practices

There’s been some internet and twitter chatter lately about the possibility of players organizing their own offseason training activities during a lockout. Nearest I can tell, our Redskins have no such plans in place as of yet.

I think it would be reasonable to assume that any group workouts or practices would have only a marginal impact on the on-field results once football starts up again. It certainly can’t hurt to have the quarterback and receivers work through some route trees, and at least the base plays could be worked on without the coaches present. But the Redskins are partly hamstrung here by not knowing who their 2011 starting quarterback would be. Joe Theismann famously led his own practices during the ’82 strike. Who is in charge of the offensive side of practices this time around? And you have to remember that since these are not held under team auspices, any injury sustained would be considered “non-football”, and once the league starts up again the team can basically dock your pay until you’re back on the field. So at the minimum these would have to be totally non-contact, and a case could be made that players would be better off simply sticking to workouts.

But team workouts may be most useful as a tactic in the labor dispute, particularly once we start getting close to the point where games are in risk of cancellation. It would work on two levels:

First, it would be outstanding PR. Imagine the visuals of locked out NFL players practicing and working out as near to the locked practice facilities as possible. Ready to get out there and do their jobs just as soon as the owners come to their senses and stop choosing to bar these dedicated professionals from doing their jobs (according to the players’ narrative, at least). This would be perfect support for the “Let Us Play” talking point, and would increase the perception among wavering fans that it is the unreasonable owners depriving them of their football.

Secondly, group practices could be important for maintaining player solidarity. In any labor situation management’s obvious tactic will be to break the unanimity of the workers. Imagine if you’re a player and you start missing game checks, or even if it’s earlier in the offseason and things look they’re headed in the direction of missed game checks. And you’re off by yourself at wherever the hell you live during the offseason. It is inevitable that doubt will start creeping in. Being surrounded by your teammates, including the veteran/leader-ish types and your union rep, while working towards real football, can only help in building a sense that all are in this together. And that sense, of course, is the key to any successful labor action.

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