While labor talks between NFL owners and the players' union continue in mediation, time is running out for the two sides to reach an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement without delaying the start of free agency. NFL owners and the NFLPA agreed to an extension to negotiations on a new CBA on March 4, with both sides agreeing to a Friday, March 11 deadline for a new deal.
An uncertain future is confronting every player these days, but those with contracts due to expire this offseason will be unable to move forward with the process of figuring out whether they will stay put or move on to a new team.
PFW recently caught up with six potential free agents, one of whom reportedly re-signed before the seven-day moratorium on new contracts, to find out how they're dealing with the situation.
Ravens CB Chris Carr
Last offseason, Carr took an internship at the Baltimore office of Hogan Lovells, a law firm.
This offseason, Carr, who has taken the LSAT and could attend law school and embark on a law career when his NFL career is over, won't be focusing on his post-career aspirations. There will be no second internship at Hogan Lovells, at least for now. "I can't do that this year," he said. Nor is Carr, one of the Ravens' NFLPA player representatives, planning to take any sort of extended vacation.
Carr, who's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, is focused is on football with an eye on being ready whenever the NFL resumes play. Presently, he's working out in the Baltimore area, though should a lockout occur, he's likely to move his training to Athletes Performance, Inc. in Phoenix.
"Pretty much, I'm making sure (I'm) in great shape," he said.
Carr, who turns 28 in April and who started all 16 games at cornerback for Baltimore in 2010, is perhaps poised to sign the most lucrative contract of his career. He signed a two-year deal with Baltimore in March 2009 and could very well garner another multiyear deal when free agency begins. However, free agency likely will be delayed if a Collective Bargaining Agreement between owners and players isn't reached by the end of the day Thursday.
As Carr noted, prospective free agents could be faced with this unique scenario: the NFL draft occurring before free agency begins. Carr knows teams can fill needs in the draft, potentially taking them out of the market for a veteran player at a particular position.
"If they draft somebody, then your value might go down a little bit on that team," he said.
Carr said he has managed his money well and will be financially secure no matter how long a work stoppage goes. For now, he readies for life with football — whenever that begins anew.
— Mike Wilkening
Raiders QB Bruce Gradkowski
Some free agents can be confident that they will be starting, somewhere, when there is a new CBA. Gradkowski, who is behind Jason Campbell on the Raiders' depth chart at quarterback, doesn't have that certainty.
But the veteran said he knows he is "a starter in this league," telling PFW that the injured shoulder that ended his 2010 season feels "great."
"I haven't stopped working out yet since the season," said Gradkowski, who threw with teammate Zach Miller to prepare the tight end for the Pro Bowl.
Gradkowski's Raiders have a new head coach, Hue Jackson, and the signalcaller said he would like to stay in Oakland.
"Whatever my part is, I just want to be a Raider and help this team win and go from there," he said.
Gradkowski has been saving his game checks in preparation for the looming lockout.
"The NFLPA did a great job with the players to inform us and keep us up to date," he said. "We put a lot of money away last year and put away some of our checks to pay for health insurance if there's a lockout."
Gradkowski, like most players, wants fans to realize that he wants to play. "As players, we want to be out there, we're not the ones that opted out of the agreement.
"Especially those of us free agents, you just want to see this deal get done so you can get out in the market. Last year a lot of guys should have been free agents, now there are over 500 guys, and it would be 250 in normal years. Some guys are going to miss out on some money there."
— Kevin Fishbain
Raiders TE Zach Miller
Raiders TE Zach Miller is supposed to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
In most years this would be an exciting time for him. Entering unrestricted free agency in the prime of his career as the top tight end on the market, Miller, who is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance, would be in demand.
He's hopeful he'll get that chance to figure out his future sooner rather than later, but he said he'll be prepared if the standoff drags on.
"The biggest thing (if there is a lockout) is I'm going to make sure I work out and stay in shape," Miller said. "It's tough. I potentially could be a free agent and I could be stuck in limbo. … It'd be a shame to have a whole offseason wiped out because of this. It could mess up everyone's normal routine, all the normal minicamps, that sort of thing. I'm hoping we can get a deal done before we get to some of these 'what if' situations."
Miller serves as the Raiders' rep to the NFL players' union, and he's on top of the issues. He's in on conference calls and said he tries to keep up with news reports on the subject.
"There's not been a lot of movement anywhere around the league," he said. "It seems like there haven't been as many deals done lately and a lot of that is because of the lockout coming. You just have to be patient. That's how I'm feeling."
— Dan Parr
Browns QB Seneca Wallace
Wallace, who reportedly agreed to a three-year contract extension with Cleveland on March 3, is approaching this unique offseason as he has other offseasons: with a financial plan.
"There's a lot more time to be spending money you don't need to be spending," Wallace said of a potential lockout, noting that a work stoppage could provide such a challenge for some players. The veteran quarterback said he has worked with a financial advisor over the years.
Players who have employed a similar approach should be able to endure a lockout, Wallace said.
"If you've been managing your money the right way, you shouldn't have a problem," he said.
Wallace, 30, is expected to back up Colt McCoy in 2011. He completed 64-of-101 passes for 694 yards with four TDs and two interceptions last season.
— Mike Wilkening
Jets P Steve Weatherford
Jets P Steve Weatherford, a sixth-year pro, knows it might be a long time before he signs another contract. Weatherford booted 42 kicks inside the 20 in 2010 — most in the NFL — and would likely be the top player at his position whenever players are going to be allowed to sign deals, but is prepared to wait a while before receiving his next paycheck.
"I've been preparing myself financially for the last season and a half, you know saving up that X amount of dollars you're going to need to get through a season should there be a full-season lockout," Weatherford said in an interview with PFW. "Hopefully there's not, but the good news is I've had a few months to prepare myself financially in case it does."
Working out in San Diego with Marquice Cole, a cornerback on the Jets, Weatherford said he has staying in shape while also following the labor negotiations. He said he expects a deal to be brokered between the owners and NFLPA in late July or early August, but makes sure to note that is "that's just an educated guess." There could be major problems if it goes longer than that, the punter thinks.
"It's not going to benefit anybody by locking out. The owners are going to lose money, the players are going to lose money if we miss preseason and regular-season games; it's a lose-lose," said Weatherford, 28.
As it stands now, Weatherford said he's just going to wait and see what happens, hoping the two sides can work out a fair deal, all while making sure his leg is ready to go whenever football resumes.
— Eli Kaberon
Chargers FS Eric Weddle
When you talk to Weddle, it's hard to imagine he is an employee about to be locked out by his bosses.
"Honestly, it's been pretty easygoing," Weddle told PFW just over a week before the CBA deadline. "I'm just chilling. It doesn't bother me that much. I tend not to worry about things I can't control, like the CBA."
Weddle is coming off what he considers his best season. In 16 starts, Weddle was second on the Chargers with 96 tackles. He added two interceptions and 10 passes defensed. As we wait to see when free agency can begin for Weddle, all he can do is continue training individually.
"I took two weeks off and have already been back working out, running and doing things needed to stay in shape," he said. "I'm trying to build off the season I had last year. I'm trying to continue to get better and take my game to the next level."
Weddle said the NFLPA has been telling the players to save their money for the last year or two and avoid spending. He said that hasn't been a problem for him.
"I'm a simple guy anyways. I save my money and I don't spend a lot. My life hasn't needed to change," he said.
Weddle has been spending more time with his family — his wife, two kids and a third on the way. He talked to PFW while en route to Disneyland with his daughter and discussed the worst-case scenario of free agency being nonexistent because of the pending lockout.
"I know it's possible of just restricting guys all over again like they did this year. It's obviously not what you want, but that stuff is out of my hands. I wouldn't be happy, but there's nothing you can do," he said. "You've just got to go out there and play and hopefully you don't get hurt, and you hope to play as well as you did before to get a long-term deal."
— Kevin Fishbain