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During Lockout, Are Player Organized Workouts Worth the Risk?

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The Times-Picayune caught up with Heath Evans yesterday and got his opinion on what he believes will be a lockout that lasts well into July or August. He also spoke a little about how Saints players plan to hold their own organized group workouts during this time:

"Here's what I know. I know if you're under contract and Drew contacts you or calls you or texts you, you're gonna be here," said Evans, who is actually not under contract but said he still considers himself a part of the team. "Drew and I have talked about the logistics, like, 'What about the young guys who maybe can't afford the flight?' But we're also aware that our team is on the verge of ... you saw the back of our T-shirts (last year). We believe it's 'Our Time.' We believe it's time to continually step to that next level. So we don't want a labor dispute to kind of mess up where we're at in our momentum. So Drew's gonna do whatever he needs to do to obviously make this team a priority.

"We'll find some ball park to go run routes on. Shoot, it's Drew. He can probably get the Elmwood Fitness Center to shut down for the team if he had to. So we'll find a place."

This all sounds great and I have little doubt that Drew can pull it all together exactly how Heath says, but it seems like something that can only work if the vast majority of players take part. Can this be productive or does it have the potential to cause more problems than it's worth?

My apologies if you read that last sentence and then made the jump expecting me to answer my own question. I don't have any more details and am curious to find out the answer myself. I did look around the web for more on how players from around the league plan to organize these activities. Here's one discussing how Dolphins players are planning to deal with a lockout.

Most players, like Karlos Dansby, plan to hire personal trainers, or participate in an offseason conditioning program like the one Pete Bommarito runs for professional athletes in Aventura.

Bommarito said he's expecting nearly 100 NFL players to attend his mid-March workouts if a lockout becomes official. He usually gets NFL participants in the offseason, but Bommarito is expecting to triple his usual client list.

Dolphins' players have had discussions about holding private workouts, running seven-on-seven passing drill on their own. However, the NFLPA has advised the league's 32 teams against conducting such workouts.

Any player injured training on his own jeopardizes his NFL future, and contract if he gets hurt. For instance, Phillip Merling tore his Achilles tendon in a non-sanctioned offseason training program last year and the Dolphins reduced his salary drastically until he was healthy enough to play.

That last part is a very important point. What if players get injured during these workouts? There won't be a team trainer and facility nearby to help them recuperate and their league insurance expires with the CBA. Not sure if that happened on March 4th or if it expires this Friday when the 7-day extension ends. Either way, former Saint Jeff Faine said last month that some players will feel this loss of league insurance harder than others:

"There are six guys on our team I can think of right now that have babies coming this offseason," Faine said. "There are two players in the league that have kids on the transplant list, who need to get these organs. It's not an insignificant thing from a life standpoint, and it's not insignificant from a cost standpoint. No one wants to shell out a million dollars, but they'll have to at this point."

So, players won't be getting paid during this time and they'll have to pay for their own health insurance. The above-linked article on the Dolphins says that the owners will hope that this eventually wears down the NFLPA into accepting their CBA demands:

The players are expecting to be locked out of each team's facility, which means they can't train, study film, or meet with their coaches. Players also won't receive their normal medical insurance and can't visit team doctors for rehabilitation. They are basically stuck in limbo until a deal gets done.

The NFL's owners expect the players to buckle once they start missing their $1,000 per week stipend for offseason training, and the game checks get threatened once the season approaches. But the NFLPA advised players to save 40 percent of their 2010 game checks for this exact rainy day.

Mike Florio thinks these player organized activities will only create tension among teammates and prove to be counterproductive:

The Redskins made sufficient use of the down time during the 1982 and 1987 strikes to win the Super Bowl to cap each season.  But here’s the difference.  In ’82 and ’87, the players walked out.  This time around, the league would be slamming the door on the players.

And since workouts organized by the players would make coaches feel not as bad about not having access to the players and thus less inclined to insist to their owners that a deal get done, plenty of players will refuse to participate and/or try to persuade other players from doing so.

On every NFL team, some players will want to focus on getting ready for the season and others will be trying to get the players to realize that doing so makes it harder to get a deal done on favorable terms.  If the league is going to lock out the players, the players need to shut it down. Though it’s unrealistic to conclude that they’ll let themselves get out of shape, there’s a difference between running and lifting and conducting practice sessions without coaches present.

What do you think about this? Can this work or does it have the potential to create more problems for players? If the lockout comes (and it sure looks probable), it'll be interesting to see if Drew and Heath and other Saints players can get this going and how productive they can make it. Without team trainers and facilities, they'd be wise to keep contact at a minimum so as to limit the possibility of injuries.

There's a few things I'm curious about that I haven't yet seen answered:

  1. Can players pool their resources and hire their own trainers for these group activities? Could they also hire coaches or former coaches to come out and observe their drills and put them through their paces?
  2. Can players from different teams work out together? Or, would it be limited to the players on each particular team?
  3. Would fans be able to come out and observe them? If so, Dave could probably get some sweet player interviews during these practices if they're held somewhere around New Orleans.

Maybe the owners and union will surprise us and actually avoid a lockout by getting a deal done this week and thereby make this a moot discussion. Yeah, and maybe Paris Hilton will become a nun. Neither look likely at this point.