Not every team faces the same lockout challenges

Posted July 25, 2011 @ 9:31 a.m.
Posted By Eli Kaberon

All 32 NFL teams faced the same problems this offseason thanks to the lockout, which prohibited players from meeting coaches, working out at team facilities and rehabbing injuries with trainers.

Not all 32 teams, however, will be affected the same by the lockout. Veteran teams with stable rosters are expected to feel less of an impact than younger squads, especially those with new head coaches.

Based on a vote of the PFW staff, here are three teams that we believe will be most and least affected by the time apart.

Most affected by the lockout

1. Carolina Panthers — With a first-time head coach, a boatload of impact unsigned veterans and two quarterbacks under the age of 24 competing for the starting job, Carolina would have loved a longer offseason, not a shorter one. Ron Rivera was a highly respected defensive coordinator, but his first year as head coach might be a tough one, even if Jimmy Clausen or Cam Newton turn out to be a solid QB. Questions regarding the status of free agents like RB DeAngelo Williams, DE Charles Johnson and OLB James Anderson will play a huge role, as will the team's decision to trade or keep WR Steve Smith.

2. Tennessee Titans — Jeff Fisher's gone and Vince Young soon will be following him out the door, so the Titans find themselves with a lot of questions and not much time to get answers. Fisher's replacement, former offensive line coach Mike Munchak, will have to find a quarterback and install an offense very quickly this summer. The coach might be without star RB Chris Johnson, who is threatening to hold out. It's also not known if the team's best receiver, Kenny Britt, will be ready to go in Week One, as he likely is facing a suspension after an offseason full of trouble.

3. San Francisco 49ers — San Francisco was the big winner in the Jim Harbaugh derby last January, agreeing to a contract with the former Stanford head coach to run the 49ers. However it loses in the lockout, since Harbaugh hasn't been able to teach his new offense to the team. Like the Panthers and Titans, the Niners also have quarterback questions, as veteran Alex Smith and rookie Colin Kaepernick are expected to compete for the starting job once training camp begins. Harbaugh has NFL experience as a player and is the brother of Ravens coach John Harbaugh, but coaches coming from college have traditionally had a tough time in Year One.

Least affected by the lockout

1. Green Bay Packers — The lockout gives the defending Super Bowl champions time to get healthy. It's easy to forget that the Pack won it all without RB Ryan Grant, TE Jermichael Finley, ILB Nick Barnett, ORT Mark Tauscher and more. In addition to getting key starters back, the Packers don't have many key free agents to worry about, nor are they expected to be a buyer when free agency begins. With the coaching staff and team intact, the champs have not been affected much by the lockout. Their most notable free agents — Cullen Jenkins, James Jones and Atari Bigby — are all replaceable should they go elsewhere.

2. New England Patriots — The team with the best record in 2010 not only is expected to return all its key starters, but also will get some defensive players back that missed all of last season. DE Ty Warren and CB Leigh Bodden will return to improve a unit that used opportunistic play to make up for a poor passing "D." The only thing hanging in the balance is the future of OLT Matt Light and OLG Logan Mankins. If they are re-signed, there will be essentially no turnover on the field. Bill Belichick systematically drafted mostly developmental prospects and won't have to worry about rushing rookies into learning the team's complex playbook to get on the field early.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers — The Steelers are a veteran team coming off an AFC championship. Their key free agents are CB Ike Taylor and ORT Willie Colon, along with some reserve linemen, meaning that free agency will be relatively quiet in Steel City. Pittsburgh lost defensive assistant Ray Horton to the Cardinals, but the offensive and defensive schemes aren't changing. The team that will be on the field Week One will be very similar to the one that lost the Super Bowl in February. It also helps the Steelers that two teams in their division, the Browns and Bengals, are impacted heavily by the lockout.