If we reach March 4 without a new deal, everything changes. No free agency, no minicamps, no OTAs, and no sign of the normal spring routine for the league's scouts, coaches and personnel executives until there's a CBA.
"We're operating like we're going to be ready to go on March 4," one NFC general manager said. "It's been business as usual. We're having our free agent meetings, our draft meetings, at the exact same time we always have, because until March 4 happens, we don't know that it will be different."
Over the last week, in panning football people, that's just what I tried to figure out. I'm not here to rain on the parade of optimistic talk that happened on Thursday, but simply ask, 'What if?' Here are some of the things teams are preparing for:
Draft Before Free Agency
Normally, teams that spend big in free agency do so to fill a specific need on the roster. But if the draft comes before free agency, more clubs could be making needs-based picks in April, and those will certainly have fewer holes to fill when the market is flooded after a CBA is reached.
Lack of Spring Camps
This is where veteran players who are under contract have an edge and probably an easier road to keeping their jobs. And it's another area in which the 2011 free-agent class could take a hit, since a team might be less likely to spend on a player who won't be able to get a full offseason under his belt before his first year in that new uniform. Then, there's the fact that a truncated process could lead to more problems team-wide.
The Trade Market
If the draft does happen before a CBA is reached, then that means veterans who might be expecting to move locales won't be able to be traded for current-year draft picks. So say you're Philadelphia and teams are coming after Kolb, the club has to consider that the windfall would more than likely be a 2012 pick, and that means going through 2011 without either Kolb or the player(s) you'd ultimately get in return. So why not wait?
The bottom line here is it might be harder, for teams looking at players on trading block, to pry them away, since the trading teams have the above knowledge. And the team-in-pursuit might be less fervent anyway, since the 2011 return might be limited as the player has to learn his new surrounding without the benefit of a full offseason.
Undrafted Free Agents
In the scenario that we've laid out, either there will be a lot of handshake deals between teams and players who go undrafted, or this will be the most well-scouted group of undrafted free agents ever. Those guys won't be able to sign deals, absent a CBA, after the draft. And so teams will be able to further evaluate who's on the market, something that could hurt lower-tier veteran free agents.