Wednesday, February 16, 2011

John Harbaugh drops strongest hint yet that lockout is coming

At this point, everyone following the NFL expects the league to implement a lockout on March 4.  The only question is whether the league has been engaging in a really, really good bluff.
If it’s a bluff, it has managed to fool the head coach of one of the 32 teams.
Addressing on Tuesday night the decision to apply the franchise tag to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, Ravens coach John Harbaugh had this to say on WBAL, via the Baltimore Sun:  “We’re on record and everybody knows that we want Haloti to be a Raven for life.  I’m sure we’re going to get it done.  There are some reasons why we can’t do it here before the lockout.  It’s really unfortunate.  Because if it was possible to do it, I’m pretty sure we’d have it done.”
Though he doesn’t say “there will be a lockout,” Harbaugh has provided the strongest indication yet from a team official that a lockout is looming.
And as to the “reasons why we can’t” sign Ngata to a long-term deal “before the lockout,” we’d love to know what they are.  In some cases (i.e., the Eagles and Mike Vick), escalators triggered in 2010 supposedly make it impossible.  For plenty of other players, it can be done — but the teams simply are choosing not to do it.
For nearly a year, some teams have been hiding behind the CBA uncertainty and the rules of the uncapped year to justify not signing their current veteran players to new deals.  (Meanwhile, Tom Brady got his long-term extension from the Patriots, and the Colts tried to sign Peyton Manning.)  Now, with the labor deal expiring in 16 days and some teams having in excess of 20 impending free agents, few if any extensions are being negotiated.

The union already has made a collusion claim based on the lack of interest in restricted free agents last March and April, and it looks like an even more potent (or, as the league would possibly put it, less impotent) claim for collusion could be made based on the unprecedented failure of so many teams to make an effort to sign their players who are scheduled to hit the market on March 4.
Every year at this time, teams are re-signing their veterans who otherwise would be hitting the market.  This year, but for a few scattered deals, it’s simply not happening.
Frankly, it’s hard not to think that this is part of the broader game of leverage, with teams keeping money out of the hands of the 490 men who won’t become free agents on March 4, and thus could revolt against the NFLPA and force the players to do a deal on the owners’ terms at some point before the first day of Spring.

author:  Mike Florio

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