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Wednesday Wondering - How will the lockout affect the rookies?

With the lockout in full swing, I thought I'd look at how the rookies are affected by the current state of the NFL.

With the lockout in force, rookies will not be in contact with their teams. Pre-draft, they're not rookies, they're potential draftees. They can stop by the facility and get checked out. They can have lunch with Hoodie. On draft day, the obligatory, "We're about to draft you. How would you like to be a New England Patriot?", phone call will probably mark the transition point to "rookie" and the last contact they will have with the organization until the whole CBA mess is fixed. At that point, they are drafted players and any of them that actually show up live for the draft will probably be ejected out the front door like lepers at a nudist camp. Wouldn't want fraternization, would we?

In addition to the no contact rule, there will be no contract negotiations, so the rookies, like all the other players, won't see a payday until the CBA is settled. Of course that's not much different than most college grads that are busy job hunting. These guys just get to quit looking, but they can't quit working out. They need to do everything they can to be camp ready once the work stoppage ends, whether that's in one month or seven. That means that many agents are footing the bill for additional training until the rookie can show up at the team facilities and collect a paycheck (all that training comes out of the bonus money, I'm sure). Of course they're only helping the high dollar first rounders, Mr. Fifth Round, has to work out on his own.

Undrafted Free Agents are like all of the other free agents, waiting for the CBA to get done so they can start interviewing for a job. Well, sort of. They aren't actual players, yet, so they can probably show up to team facilities and peddle their wares, but teams can't make a binding deal with them. They might be able to agree to make an agreement down the road, but it starts to get pretty fuzzy at this point. In general, they are just on the free agent list, but unlike other free agents, they might be able to stop by the facility or grab a burger with the coaches.

One of the few things it seemed they were making headway on during the talks was a rookie salary limit. While this doesn't affect most rookies, because their wages were relatively reasonable anyway, it would potentially affect the top half or so of the first round draftees. In addition, their contracts would be shorter (by at least a year) than their normal five year deals (I think Wilfork was the last of the six year guys). Once camp starts they'll be making less scratch than in previous years, but their next payday will be sooner. That is if NFL and NFLPA decide to keep that part of the agreement when all is said and done.

There are no OTA's or rookie mini-camps or possibly even training camp if the legal battle is prolonged. There is no legal way to slip a rookie a playbook or some notes about the system. If the players want to contact the rookie or even work out with them, they may, but they are discouraged from doing that by the NFLPA, which retains it's identity as an association. Any injury players sustain on their own could potentially affect their NFL career. Some players think it's worth it for the team's success. Some won't do it, because it helps the owners and not the NFLPA. Either way, it's still up to the player to be ready once football starts again. The guys who stay in shape will be the ones on the roster in most cases.

The lack of pre-season training really hurts the higher draft picks the most. First round picks are chosen to see significant playing time their first year (first round QBs have historically been the exception, but that has changed within the last ten years). Without preseason workouts and possibly preseason games, these guys have a small chance of cracking the starting line-up their rookie season unless the team is in dire straits. This could hinder their development up to a full year over past rookies. Lower rounders won't be affected as much because they are usually developmental players and roster depth. Their biggest contribution is usually on special teams if anywhere.

In the end, the team that needs its rookies the most to survive will be hit hardest by the lockout. In that respect, the Patriots are in pretty good shape. Teams that are looking to draft their franchise quarterback, may have to wait a year to let him hit the field. Teams with new coaches usually have an extra OTA to get ready, but if the lockout extends into camp, that won't happen. Look for those same teams to be on the bottom again next year if their development is delayed in 2011. The lockout is hard on most of the players, but the rookie players (and coaches) are getting the worst of it.