The National Football League last week released its schedule for the 2011 season, a slate of games that may never be played in its entirety, if at all.
The annual free-agent signing period that was to have begun in early March was postponed the very same day the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the players’ association expired without a new deal.
The two sides have tried negotiating. They have been in mediation, although there is a break now until mid-May. There are court cases pending, and the National Labor Relations Board may or may not grant a hearing.
In other words, nothing is business as usual for the NFL.
The Show, however, will go on.
The league’s annual draft of college players starts in prime time on Thursday and continues into the weekend. Some of the players may or may not be waiting backstage — the players’ association is planning its own extravaganza elsewhere — and none will be whisked off on a private jet to a contract-signing press conference in his new home city.
Drafted players will have teams. But they won’t have jobs or paydays.
That won’t stop the NFL from all the glitz and glamour, its broadcast partners from nonstop bombast and blather, nor its millions of fans from zombie-like devotion to the tube. Everybody is on the clock later this week.
That includes the Carolina Panthers, who have the No. 1 pick and the inside shot at Heisman Trophy quarterback Cam Newton. And it includes the teams of local interest — Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Detroit — in a somewhat unusual order that reflects the demise of the Bengals, the frustrating status-quo of the Browns, and the modest improvement of the Lions.
Here are looks at the three locals and what they might do in the first round:
- Bengals, No. 4 pick. Cincinnati’s management, sort of an oxymoron to begin with, seems to be in a state of suspended disbelief that Carson Palmer really wants a trade and would rather retire than return. This pick will tell us if they have tuned in to reality.
Presuming the Panthers, who scored an astounding 30 fewer touchdowns last season than NFC South champ Atlanta, take the plunge on Newton, the top quarterbacks available to Cincinnati would include Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert and TCU’s Andy Dalton, whose stock has soared, although likely not to this height of the draft. Both have drawbacks, both have promise. Palmer isn’t coming back.
- Browns, No. 6 pick. If Alabama receiver Julio Jones is still available, this is a no-brainer. He’s big, he’s fast, he blocks downfield, and if Cleveland is serious about QB Colt McCoy as the future of the franchise, then it had better give him some tools.
Browns GM Tom Heckert nabbed three starters in the first three rounds a year ago, but Cleveland, with eight picks scheduled, must find a way for its offense to stretch the field if the win-loss record is to improve.
- Lions, No. 13 pick. The offensive pieces, when healthy, are in place. Coach Jim Schwartz has a defensive background, and he knows he has two huge needs — a defensive end with pass-rushing skills and a lockdown cornerback with elite speed.
The latter could be Prince Amukamara, a former Nebraska teammate of 2010 top pick Ndamukong Suh. The former might be Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, despite some medical issues. Suh and a talented end would give the Lions one of the league’s better defensive fronts.
It’s all speculation, especially with teams drafting before any free-agent scenarios can come in to focus.
Although the NFL says it has set no deadline for the prospect of canceling games, there have been few encouraging signs.
The Show, however, will go on.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.