2/12/2020 11:35 AM EDT I can honestly say that this season will be the toughest one for all players at both the College and NFL levels,” a letter from the Buffalo Bills’ players said. “Every player that deserves to play this season will play and we will see exciting, competitive, and competitive football.”
As labor negotiations between the NFL and its players face another obstacle, a provision that would allow teams to sign free agents with an expiring contract seems to be the most realistic escape option for teams at this point.
It was originally expected that the sides would continue negotiations on this week’s draft schedule and logistics for preseason and regular season practices and games. The lockout, however, could force them to seek other solutions, including the recent trickle of free agents being released.
“If we can’t get back to work we’ll really start to feel the effects. We’ll be letting a lot of good football die,” said Jacksonville Jaguars President and CEO Shahid Khan.
The Jacksonville Jaguars would be an obvious candidate to start letting their personnel walk away from their respective salaries.
“We want to do everything we can to keep this thing a train wreck, but I don’t think we can do it,” Khan said.
The latest odds from the sportsbook at SportsLine.com place the Jaguars as the 15th most likely team to release players after the lockout ends.
While Khan said their NFL first-round pick in April’s draft, linebacker Telvin Smith, would be left alone, the team is not locking up free agents on a short-term basis. “We’re not just sitting here signing guys to one-year deals, I can tell you that,” he said.
The most interesting possible scenario has been that of the Bills and linebacker Kiko Alonso. Buffalo appears ready to release the University of Oregon product when his contract expires in less than a month. The Bills, who lost four of their last five games last season, have a lot of good young players they wish to keep. So releasing Alonso would definitely be a difficult move.
Denver would have to release as many as 12 players to pay for the expected contracts of quarterback Kyle Orton, wide receiver Eddie Royal, and Alonso.
Although their practices have ceased during the lockout, the Arizona Cardinals have maintained a robust team structure by building 12-man temporary professional teams. The Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs have also been setting up similar entities.
Because the NFL’s contract with players runs through 2022, one popular potential method for the owners to try and raise money to continue the lockout is by locking up top talent. Outside of the Colts signing wide receiver Reggie Wayne in the 2004 lockout, all players have been able to go to another league without paying a fee to their NFL counterparts.
According to a recent study conducted by The Boston-based research company Penn Schoen Berland, 79 percent of NFL players polled would refuse to sign a new deal if the total amount taken from their paychecks is based on how long it will take for the season to begin.
When surveyed about how they would spend any money put into their compensation during a lockout, 57 percent said they would go out and buy a new car or pay off debt. Only 40 percent said they would invest the money.
“If you’re hitting a stretch where you don’t have your job and there’s a potential hit to your income, it’s not going to be as fun as it was last season,” said Syracuse University Sports Business Professor Michael Geist.
That said, if the NFL and the players do not make a deal by the 2nd week of November, Geist says it’s possible for the next economic woes to hit: the upcoming college football season.
“Even if we don’t get a deal in November, there’s a chance for something bad to happen between now and the start of the college football season,” Geist said. “In fairness to the teams, there’s nothing illegal about releasing players at any point. They can make a choice that looks fairly clean but will put the team in a bad light, regardless of the consequences.”
Sources said it was a mostly free market for the players during the preseason, but told reporters that the Bills and Dolphins were not in a position to remain among the top leaders due to the mediocre nature of their teams.
“It’s all right for teams to be competitive,” Khan said. “We’re not going to have things turn the other way. We’re going to have good teams like we always have.”
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