NFL Predictions: Teams Hurt Most by Lockout
by Robert Ferringo - 6/15/2011
“Silent Spring”, by Rachel Carson, is one of the most influential books in American literature. The book, which documented the detrimental effects of Big Business – specifically the chemical industry and pesticide producers – on the environment, particularly birds, is credited with helping to launch the environmental movement. The premise of the book was that uncontrolled pesticide use was killing animals and birds and could lead to a spring season where no birds could be heard because they had all vanished.
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If someone had written a doomsday book predicting the current NFL labor situation they could have called it “Silent Summer”. This book would have been a sort of sequel and would have been about the detrimental effects of Big Business – specifically greedy, shady, scumbag, sociopath NFL owners that don’t care about the well-being of hundreds of players, thousands of team and league employees, tens of thousands of business owners and workers who make a living peripherally (think about apparel manufacturers, parking attendants, bar owners, etc.), and millions of fans world wide – on the National Football League.
We are enduring the Silent Summer. There is no summer negotiating. There is no “buzz” about late free agent signings, trades, and potential holdouts. There is no haggling with rookies, the physical representations of Promise for 32 franchises in the league, and there is no media-fueled chatter speculating about position battles, new coaching schemes, and Super Bowl favorites.
There is nothing of substance. There is only the rumors and innuendo of a thousand thieves, split between optimistic and ominous. There is the unintelligible blather of The Law. But the general undercurrent of this country – the feeling that no one knows what the hell is really going on or why, they just know that it isn’t good – has invaded the sport that most closely reflects our core beliefs as a society. And although it isn’t tragic in a massacre-in-Africa kind of way, it is a desolate reminder that Men In Suits With Money can take away anything that we love whenever the hell they feel like it.
Free agency is one of the most important facets of what makes football great: balance. NFL free agency is a labor lover’s dream, with a free flow of skilled workers floating through an open market from team to team. And the result is that balance is maintained throughout the league. Teams can reload at any time. And any franchise that displays savvy, cunning and foresight, with a little bit of luck, can turn its fortunes around with a solid draft and a couple good offseason pickups.
However, because the NFL is presently in a state of legal chaos, the 32 teams have been deprived, to this point, of a full free agent period. And the result of that is that no one really knows what their team is going to look like this fall. So any meaningful prognostication and prediction about the 2011-12 NFL season is an exercise in futility.
Also, while the greed and sociopathic tendencies of the 32 owners are currently the biggest threat to a full 2011-12 NFL season, the next biggest threat to the 16-game glory of a pro football season is the necessity of free agency.
Think about it: practically speaking, you can’t have a season if you don’t have a team. Since anywhere from one-third to one-half of the league – free agents and rookies – will be unsigned once the owners decide to end the lockout, we can’t have a season until organizations fill up their rosters. How long will that take? How smooth will negotiations be between individual players and management after this vicious labor feud? How much hustling and haggling will go on before the top players sign? What is going to happen to the rookies, who are notorious for holding out and slowing up the roster-building process? How will teams react to what could be a lightning-fast free agency period, full of knee-jerk reactions and snap-judgments by players, agents, coaches and front office personnel alike? Where are my pants?
It’s a debacle. And the practical matter of personnel decisions for the 32 teams is one of the main reasons that people are focusing on the theoretical July 15 “do-or-die” date that is currently being floated into the echo chamber of mass media. Outside of certain desperate pockets, the players and coaches probably don’t care all that much that they missed offseason workouts. And no one but those seedy perverts in the owners’ boxes – whose annual price gouging for preseason games is notorious – care for the length of training camp. But the practicality of free agency is a major stumbling block for the season starting on time and is the reason that the whispers about eight- and 10-game NFL schedules are starting to gain volume.
Look, everyone is a loser when it comes to the present NFL labor debacle. No one can get back the hours of their lives that have been sucked into this. But as a pragmatic matter the organizations are paying a steep price this spring and summer by not being able to take advantage of a full free agency period.
While this conundrum is an issue for all 32 NFL teams, I feel like there are some teams that are more adversely impacted by the lack of free agency than others. Below is a list of seven teams that I think are most negatively impacted by what will most likely be an abbreviated free agency period:
Cincinnati – The Bengals are always behind the eight ball because of shaky front office decisions guided by notorious cheapskate owner Mike Brown. This year Brown’s approach has led to a stare down with starting quarterback Carson Palmer, who has threatened to retire rather than play for the Bengals. Palmer is being a baby, but I can hardly blame him; this organization is a debacle. But the lockout has really exacerbated the situation. Cincinnati did draft a rookie quarterback, TCU’s Andy Dalton, at the top of the second round. But they haven’t had an opportunity to work a trade for Palmer, negotiate with him face to face, or bring in a veteran quarterback through free agency. Also, they can’t negotiate with Dalton and he hasn’t been able to work with coaches and receivers. That leaves Jordan Palmer as their starting QB right now. Not good.
Chicago – The Bears were a surprise participant in the NFC Championship Game and could be a competitor again this year. However, their offensive and defensive lines could be shredded by a whirlwind free agency. Offensive linemen Olin Kreutz, Josh Beekman and Kevin Shaffer are UFA’s. Defensive linemen Anthony Adams, Charles Grant and Tommie Harris are UFA’s. Specialists Pat Mannelly (LS) and Brad Maynard, as well as several key components to the receiving corps, could also bolt. Mike Martz also won’t get an opportunity to work any new offensive players into his excessively complicated system and Hurricane Jay (Cutler) already has 100 built-in excuses for the 35-interception season that we just know is coming.
San Diego – This team currently has 25 free agents and no team in the league has as much personnel uncertainty and right now the Chargers may be at a crossroads. They lost their stranglehold on the AFC West last year, and as age and turnover starts to infect the roster we could see an end of an era for the Bolts, the best franchise not to win the Super Bowl over the last 15 years. This team could lose its top three receivers, electric running back Darren Sproles, and a ton of depth on defense. If so then they could slide head first into a rebuilding period. Or everyone could re-sign and this team could be a bounce back Super Bowl contender. Basically, they are the perfect example of the fact that no one knows what the hell is going on with their roster at the moment.
Cleveland – The first issue at work here is less practical and more abstract: the Browns are suffering because every day that there is no activity is a day that Mike Holmgren’s skill is being wasted. Holmgren, the current Browns president, is an exceptional talent evaluator and will rebuild this franchise. But right now his hands are tied. On top of that the Browns have a new coach, they are settling on a new defensive scheme, and they have spent the last two years playing with one of the worst collections of skill players I have ever seen. Basically, they have a ton of work to do and some good people trying to rebuild this wreck. But at the moment they are frozen.
New York Jets – This year’s free agency is going to make last year’s drama with Darrelle Revis look like an episode of Dora The Explorer. Three of their four wideouts are unrestricted free agents, as well as two offensive line starters, including Pro Bowler Nick Mangold. Further, several key pieces – Shaun Ellis, David Harris, Jason Taylor and Antonio Cromartie among them – from one of the league’s best defenses over the last two years could walk away. This franchise had a lot of momentum. But the work stoppage and a mass exodus of veterans could derail their progress and turn the Jets into a mess of unfulfilled expectations.
Minnesota – Brett Favre is gone. Backup Tarv Jackson is a free agent and the Vikings made a huge reach in the draft for Christian Ponder (whom they can’t sign). So this aging team – that was just one play away from the Super Bowl just 17 months ago – literally doesn’t have a quarterback. Well, they also have 17 free agents that could definitely jump ship. Those free agents include five starters on defense and several key veterans on offense, including stud wideout Sidney Rice. I have a feeling things are going to get really, really ugly in Minnesota once football resumes.
Miami – This is an incredibly young team that desperately needed the offseason to regroup in a strong division. Beyond that they also needed a talent influx on offense in the worst way. Both running backs, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, are free agents. Their quarterback situation is murky and they need an insurance plan in case Chad Henne flakes out. Oh, and both their receiving corps and offensive line needed to be upgraded.
Honorable Mention: Kansas City, New Orleans, Carolina, Tennessee, Seattle and Green Bay.
Robert Ferringo is a professional football handicapper and is coming off an exceptionally profitable 2010-11 season. He is looking forward to building on his stellar handicapping resume again this fall and you can purchase his football predictions here.
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