Well, here we are... the NFL Draft begins tonight.
But due to the labor impasse, it is unlike any that we, the professional football fans, have ever seen. That's because teams will have to draft for needs that they could have filled through trades or free agency in previous seasons.
Presently, teams cannot sign free agents, because without a new collective bargaining agreement in place, there is no way of knowing exactly who is a free agent. Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams and San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson are two examples of players who would be restricted free agents if the old CBA was still in effect, but could become unrestricted (and thus free to sign with any team) if a new CBA says they can. With respect to the Draft, teams now have to spend draft picks to fill needs that they might have been able to fill via free agency. For example, an NFL team (such as the Miami Dolphins or New England Patriots) might have to draft a running back early on because Williams is presently not able to sign with that or any other team.
Teams also cannot trade for veteran players. Trading comes into play in the weeks leading up to the draft and during the draft, when players are traded for draft picks (examples from last year included Donovan McNabb, Santonio Holmes and Leon Washington). Again, NFL teams are going to have to draft to fill needs in situations where trading a lower draft pick for a veteran might have worked.
Once the draft is completed, teams cannot sign undrafted players (as they become free agents after the draft).
Finally, teams cannot sign the players they did draft to contracts (particularly because the owners and players have not yet agreed on a new rookie wage scale--it makes perfect sense because no team should ever have to pay millions in guaranteed money to unproven players like JaMarcus Russell, but the players have wanted the owners to reallocate the money they save under such a new wage scale to a pension fund, and that has been a sticking point).
Things I'd love to see happen:
- For the game: Darnit, owners, you've lost. When ESPN--a network that just gave you a ton of money to keep Monday Night Football--keeps saying stuff along those lines (as in this column by Gene Wojciechowski), Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners had better listen. Basically, get back to the table and be prepared to make some concessions to the players. You and the players both have way too much to lose here.
- For my Detroit Lions: I hope that either CB Prince Amukamara (Nebraska) or OT Tyron Smith (USC) fall to #13 and the Lions take whichever of the two they can get (Amukamara's my first choice). Their secondary, while improved over what we had a few years ago, still needs a shutdown corner and I still look back on when they passed on CB Quentin Jammer in 2002 in favor of QB Joey Harrington. Smith would be an upgrade for an offensive line that sorely needs it. I still contend that the Lions should have drafted OT Michael Oher with the 20th overall pick in 2009, mainly because they had just spent $42 million in guaranteed money on Matthew Stafford and owed it to him and the team to protect that investment and Jeff Backus is not, and has never been, a franchise tackle. The O-line and the secondary have both been needs for this team for years and I'll be happy if the Lions can satisfy either one.