Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The no-show draft show and other bits 'n' pieces

Fans of the Green Bay Packers and the other 31 NFL teams are now in post-players association decertification mode: wondering what the heck is going on, and when pro football will next be played. It's still amazing to the average fan that adults can't figure out how to divy up $9 billion in a way that makes everyone happy.

In the meantime, the teams themselves and the players are making their own adjustments. Teams have no on-site workouts or any other contact or work with their players. Players are on their own, not only for physical conditioning but also for their own health insurance right now. Things the rest of us probably think about more than they do. Although when you have Chad Ochocinco -- and why shouldn't this surprise us? -- reportedly saying that without his $11 million he doesn't know how he's going to put food on his family's table, well, you know there are...issues with dealing with reality. But at least he's not just laying around; he's got a four-day tryout set up with the Kansas City Major League Soccer team. Good luck with that.

For the Packers, they themselves and various sports pundits say that actually this time may benefit the Pack as much as any team. Because of the extended season running through the playoffs and Super Bowl, getting this extra break, from a player's perspective, provides much needed rest before getting back into the grind of team workouts, and so on. It will also give coaches and other staff a breather to re-focus their energies on the needs for the upcoming season, which will all be keyed to repeating as Super Bowl champs.

Back to the real reality...draft dichotomy

The teams are also making whatever internal adjustments they need to make to preserve their financial resources just in case things get nuts, as George Costanza might say. Packers management is set to take reduced salaries. Layoffs, which some other teams may or will have to make, are not part of the plan for the Packers at this point.

Teams are also continuing to prepare for next month's NFL Draft. The scouting combine was held, players and colleges are holding their own "pro days" for prospective players to showcase their talents for NFL GMs and coaches, and draft boards are being prepared.

The players, now operating as a trade association instead of a union, are preparing their own version of the draft, however. As noted in this blog last week, there were rumors that the players association might try to somehow disrupt or prevent the draft from taking place. The latest news is that the association is trying to get the top draft prospects -- those who would normally be on hand to walk across the stage as their names are called, etc. during the first round -- to attend an alternate draft affair. Details on that are sketchy at this point. And it is something which some current players aren't all that enthused about, saying that college players work hard for their moment in the limelight that comes with the draft...the real draft. Plus, these college players, until they are actually signed to a contract, are not part of either a players' union or a trade association. So what's in it for them? Will be interesting to see how the players association tries to work these young prospects into picking a side before they are even on a side.

Kickoff changes discussed

According to reports today, the NFL's competition committee is discussing the idea of having kickoffs moved back to the 35-yard line (where they were until recently). In and of itself, nothing too shocking about that. It will result in more touchbacks. Which brings up the new idea: touchbacks go the 25-yard line instead of the 20. Data apparently showed, among other things, that the average starting point for most returns was just past the 26. So getting a touchback to the 25 isn't a bad option. Especially for a team like the Packers who hasn't had a solid kick return game in this century (that sounds a bit odd, but we're now 11 years in!). There are also discussions about eliminating all wedge type blocking.

Taken as a whole, the combination of these ideas and others seem to point to a rising concern by the league about player injuries. Special teams' players have always been the kamikaze units of football, and injuries are a common occurrence. By instituting these changes, perhaps players will have a chance of staying healthier longer.

Stay tuned for future developments, Packer fans. It's going to be an interesting time over the next weeks and months. We'll be offering some draft commentary as we start getting closer to that April weekend. Players are moving up and down mock draft boards at the moment. The Packers, of course, have the pick every team wants, #32, the last of the first round...because that means you are the Super Bowl Champions!