NFL to enter summer of uncertainty

The NFL Draft is over. The lockout was temporarily lifted and then dropped back on us harder than ever, and NFL fans are definitely starting to sweat.

There’s reason for buzz in the league. There’s reason for excitement and hope, yet there’s even more reason for worry.

It seems the league is trying to pound the players into submission, denying them workouts, denying rookie players (with the exception of first day draft picks) their playbooks. The league has its sights set on getting what it wants, and it seems the players have less and less bargaining leverage because the owners and league execs are exhibiting exactly how much they don’t care about football.

There’s so much to be lost if the forthcoming season is squandered.

Is Cam Newton a bust or a stud? We really don’t know, because for every Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick, there’s a Vince Young or Joey Harrington. We’ve seen quarterbacks like Alex Smith and the legendary Jamarcus Russell flounder over the years, while Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan flourish. It’s amazing how unscientific the process of selecting a franchise quarterback is. The list of names is incredibly long, and I guarantee that it favors neither boom nor bust. Quarterbacks selected high in the draft, you have to see them play against NFL talent to judge them. There’s no other surefire way to test it.

Are we even going to get the chance this year?

Four Illini were drafted, how are they going to do? Can Corey Lee-git, as it’s apparently pronounced now, dominate the pros like he did the Big Ten? Will Mikel Leshoure make it three big-name Illinois running backs (yes, this means I’m counting Pierre Thomas) in the NFL? Also, J Leman’s still trying to break through into the league, and man, wouldn’t that be cool?

Doesn’t matter. The owners need more money.

At first, this was an issue that I cautioned myself away from picking sides on. Both the NFLPA and the owners are keeping me from watching football, so they’re equally evil, right? But as the debacle has gone on and on (and on and on and oh my God why won’t it end?), I’ve gleaned that the players are trying to keep a 16-game season, which is cool, and the owners denied a 50-50 revenue split, which seems like a fair proposal.

With Adrian Peterson stupidly claiming the NFL was similar to slavery (which is so true, you know, with the small exception of millions of dollars they’re getting and affluent lifestyles they enjoy), and Rashard Mendenhall apparently questioning the validity of the 9/11 attacks (which seems pretty ignorant at this point), it’s obvious NFL players aren’t always right about everything. But it’s clear they want football to happen. This doesn’t seem true with the owners. In fact, the league is probably willing to use the players’ need for playing football against them, because they know the players will submit before abandoning the game they love.

Players are going to continue to work out. We aren’t going to have a bunch of fatsos trying to run out there and play football when the lockout finally ends, but being in shape isn’t even half of being prepared for an NFL season.

This year’s rookies are going to be very much at a disadvantage without the mini-camps, playbooks and player-coach contact to get them acclimated — as much as a rookie can be before playing a game — to the NFL. Think about it, if you just got drafted into the NFL, wouldn’t you want to get to know your head coach? The necessity of this barring of contact is incredibly questionable.

Not only are the rookies getting the shaft, but so are the free agents who simply aren’t allowed to look for a job. Important signings and trade acquisitions are part of what keeps fans interested in the offseason, and those are being stripped from us due to the lockout. We’re surviving, but fans have to be hungry for football news by now, other than the standard “football still isn’t happening” headlines.

So here we enter a lull. We know there are plenty of people who want football, but we don’t know if they can put two and two together and actually make it happen. When July comes around, and those annual training camp pangs start to hit, we could very well be without a deal.

Hopefully we can see a breakthrough this summer. Hopefully when fall semester begins we’ll have certainty about the football season. Hopefully we’ll be in the middle of preseason. Hopefully we’ll have more than baseball to get us through the week.

But hope is a dangerous thing, and as we enter the summer of uncertainty, we would be wiser to not get our hopes up.

Eliot Sill is a freshman in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]