Bears prepared for difficulties ahead From tr
Bears prepared for difficulties ahead
From training to team workouts to coaches' pay, uncertainty now rules NFL
By Michael C. Wright
Extensive bargaining sessions brought about only extensions for the NFL and the NFLPA in their attempts to close in on a new collective bargaining agreement.
As the deadline for expiration of the current CBA approached Friday, the NFL Players Association officially renounced its status as the exclusive collective bargaining representative of the NFL's players, which means the sides now will take their arguments to the courtroom as owners, players and fans brace for a league-wide work stoppage.
The far-reaching implications of a work stoppage will affect some teams more significantly than others. But every team is affected, nonetheless, including the Bears, who long have been making contingency plans within the football and non-football staff for the situation currently at hand.
We've all been paying attention to it to see what was going to happen and be up to speed on what they were talking about," Bears cornerback Zack Bowman said. "We knew it was a possibility. Some guys have been saving their money. Some guys have been spending their money. So we'll see what happens. But as far as the union reps, they've been doing a great job during the whole process keeping myself and [my] teammates informed."
Because of an agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA on somewhat of a media embargo during CBA negotiations, it will be difficult to come by information about how each team -- specifically the Bears -- will operate during a work stoppage with league business essentially shut down.
"Regrettably, the parties have not achieved an overall agreement nor have they been able to resolve at this time strongly held competing views that separate them on core issues," said George Cohen, the federal mediator for the sides in 17 days of negotiations, who added that "no constructive purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue mediation at this time."
This much we know: Teams can't sign players, cut them, trade them or interact with them in any way during a work stoppage, which means clubs can't conduct meetings or official workouts, either.
Teams also will refuse to pay offseason roster and workout bonuses to players, who are paid 1/17 of their base salaries during each week of an NFL season. With the NFLPA prepping players for this situation for more than two years, concerns about money likely won't be an issue for them at first. But it's believed the league's owners are banking on players to eventually become cash strapped and cave on their demands.
"You try not to spend a ton, and we've been saving," Bears backup quarterback Caleb Hanie said. "We planned for this, and they've been preparing us for a couple of years to save money. We'll also have some money coming in from the NFLPA that we had saved up. So we're not too worried about money right now, but the money crunch will come in the season when you are missing out on game checks."
In addition, injured players -- such as quarterback Jay Cutler (knee) -- aren't allowed to rehab at team facilities. In fact, team doctors are allowed to check in on injured players only if their interaction takes place away from a team facility.
Free agency, meanwhile, won't start until there's a new CBA in place, while the April 28 NFL draft will go on as planned. If the work stoppage continues past the draft, rookies won't be able to sign contracts or communicate with teams except for news conferences for draft picks at team facilities.
Pre-draft workouts and visits to teams by draft-eligible players will be permitted.
"We start our offseason program around mid-April," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "So we have plenty of time [for resolution]. I'm very, very optimistic, very hopeful we can get a resolution because it serves all of us. I know that's the intent." Effect on Bears coaches
Larry Kennan, executive director of the NFL Coaches Association, warned at the NFL combine of the effect the lockout would have on most of the league's coaches, who, interestingly, have no say in the negotiations between the NFL and the players' union
Kennan said some coaches now face up to 50 percent pay cuts.
"In almost every coach's contract, there are lockout clauses," Kennan said. "Coaches will take a pay cut in varying degrees [on a] team-by-team basis."
Although the contracts of Chicago's staff, according to an NFL source, contained lockout provisions that called for a 25 percent pay reduction and a club option to dismiss after a 60-day notice, team president Ted Phillips recently announced there would be no furloughs, layoffs or pay cuts (unless games are missed). A team spokesman confirmed Friday that Phillips' announcement also applied to the coaching staff, but the club does "not discuss specifics of contracts" and the "coaches, like staff, have been told they will not face pay cuts at this time."
"Every team has a clause that says their salary will be rolled back at a certain point in time. The good teams say they won't roll back salaries for six months," Kennan said. "The bad teams say they'll roll it back immediately, and certain teams have it written into contracts that they can be terminated immediately. That's for all coaches and head coaches." Effects on the team
Although the Bears continue to express optimism about the strides the offense can make in the second year of Mike Martz's offensive system, that, obviously, will be impossible if the players can't interact with the coaches or spend time at the facilities working to build cohesion.
"Of course going into the second year, you want to be able to spend as much time as possible with that group," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
But that can't happen now. It couldn't happen weeks ago, either.
According to one AFC coach, the NFL reminded clubs during a meeting with coaches and GMs at the combine that league rules prevented team meetings with coaches to discuss lockout plans or the distribution of playbooks until the official March 15 start of offseason conditioning programs.
Obviously, that date is meaningless now with a work stoppage. Even if the players wanted to voluntarily meet with coaches to get a jump start on preparation for Year 2 in Martz's system prior to any stoppage, it would have been forbidden. The league didn't want teams doing anything out of the ordinary for fear of violating the dead-period rules for the offseason, which came about because of the NFLPA's desire to not have coaches meeting with players until the official start of offseason programs. "We really can't do any of that," Smith said when asked about the team making plans for a lockout. "We realize some things that happen. We make plans. The players know those plans. We can't make a whole lot of plans of course after [the CBA deadline]. Things shut down. We'll start adjusting."
That won't be easy. Even well-established teams will struggle to get younger players and rookies up to speed on their offensive and defensive systems if a work stoppage becomes a drawn-out affair. For teams with new head coaches or those such as the Bears, who are still relatively inexperienced in their offensive system, the learning curve could be difficult without adequate preparation.
"I couldn't even imagine trying to come in and learn Mike Martz's offense in two months or a month," said tight end Desmond Clark, who won't be back with the Bears next season. "Some guys might have to do that if this labor thing is drawn out. Say you go to another team. You've got to learn a whole different language, and that takes time. You just don't get that right away; it takes repetitions. The longer this goes, the more difficult it's going to be to step on the field, and be effective from the standpoint of learning the offense, communicating and those types of things."
It's a situation expected to play out throughout the league, especially with the seven teams (Cleveland, Oakland, Denver, Carolina, San Francisco, Dallas and Minnesota) expected to start the 2011 season (if there's football) with new coaches.
"You could say that maybe it's a disadvantage for us," said former Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who recently was hired as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. "We haven't given our players any type of playbook, and they don't know what our schemes are. It's up to us to adjust, to overcome any and all obstacles out there. We'll think through it and come up with a plan."
In addition to the difficult learning curve, Clark mentioned possible disruption of team chemistry as a potential detriment to teams during a work stoppage. There's also concern around the league about players rejoining their teams after the labor strife out of shape, a situation a member of the Bears' coaching staff said would be a "non-issue."
Smith, meanwhile, said "we'll all go by the same rules," which is true to an extent. But clearly, teams with well-established rosters and systems are more likely to have an advantage once a CBA is reached.
"The only thing I can say is that we're all playing off the same deck. We all have to abide by the same rules," Angelo said. "Obviously the teams that have continuity, that have bigger numbers on their roster -- which there aren't as many given the fact there hasn't been a lot of signings internally with teams -- that's gonna be tougher on those teams [without that] because that means more attrition. Now attrition takes hold. The more new players you have coming in, the less time you have to work with them. It's gonna be a lot tougher."
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson contributed to this report.