The 2011 NFL draft has been something football fans have been looking forward to for some time because the NFL lockout has dominated the news cycle. Despite the lockout, the NFL draft will go on as planned so it was thought to be the one weekend that would be free of NFL lockout talk.
And then of course all the latest lockout news hit putting it back in the headlines.
Despite that, the draft will go on. However, there will be a few tweaks to the draft this year because of the lockout. Assuming the lockout isn't resolved before the draft, here are a few of the changes in the draft that we'll see this year thanks to the lockout.
Free agency hasn't come yet. The way the league usually words is that in the first week or so of March free agency hits which means teams have over a month before the draft to not only sign players on the open market filling holes, but also to re-sign your own players. So then you go into the draft with a bunch of your holes already filled via free agency or the re-signing of your own players.
Not this year.
With the lockout, we haven't seen free agency yet. Teams are going into the draft with large numbers of their players unsigned and with no opportunity to hit the open market and fill holes. The Chiefs, for example, will draft knowing they have 25 players without contracts for 2011. In theory, your draft plans shouldn't change much if you're looking at the best player available but it's making life harder on all GMs.
Players can not be traded. This is one of the biggest draft day changes. Players can not be included in trades. Remember the Leon Washington trade last year on draft day? That couldn't happen this year. Teams can trade picks -- and future picks, like 2012, 2013, etc. -- but they can not include players.
So will this lead to more trading?
It's tough to predict. On the one hand, you could argue there will be less trades because, logically speaking, there are less pieces to trade. On the other hand, teams haven't been able to do anything to their roster so it makes you wonder if GMs will be trigger happy to make some sort of trade knowing free agency may not come at all this year.
Draft picks can't sign with their teams right away. In some years we would see the team with the No. 1 pick negotiating with a player before the draft even starts. That hasn't happened this year because, with the lockout, there are no player signings. That means once a player is selected in the draft, he essentially becomes locked out and can't sign. We see a lot of holdouts in the first round and that's when the teams can start signing their players immediately after the draft. If the lockout goes on, we could see even more holdouts.
Teams will also be waiting for the lockout to end to see if a rookie wage scale is implemented. We're not sure where that stands but, if a rookie wage scale is in place, it will significantly decrease the money given to the picks in the top half of the first round.
Undrafted free agents are among those losing the most. This is the one that will hurt the most people and not many fans realize it: undrafted free agents can't be signed until the lockout ends.
Following the draft, teams scramble to sign the players that weren't drafted and it's a competitive process because it's an open market meaning a player can choose which team he signs with. That won't happen with the lockout. Those players will just sit there and continue to work out without a team. Unfortunately, coaches may end up forgetting about many of these guys. If the lockout affects training camp, there will be plenty of guys who would normally have a chance to prove themselves that will never get that chance. A large chunk of the NFL is made up of the guys that fill out your 80-man training camp roster or those that are undrafted free agents.