The NFL lockout is entering its third month of existence and the only end in sight comes at a June 3 court date in which we'll have a better understanding of the future of the work stoppage.
But if the lockout continues after that date, when will it end? When will football start? And if football does start late, what will the season look like?
NBC's Cris Collinsworth recently posted a few of his predictions for the season which includes free agency in October and the first game of the season in early November. Here's a look at Collinsworth's prediction on what the 2011 NFL season could look like.
NFL misses first game of the season. This would be disastrous because, not only would an actual game be missed, but it would come on Sept. 11 -- the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. Obviously, this would not be a good situation. If it turns out like this, I think you see a very serious drop in the fans' interest in the game. Fans are mad right now and the only thing we've missed is rookie minicamps (outside of free agency, of course). Think about what fans would do when real games are missed. This date is also important because at least some teams are cutting employees' pay which they could receive back -- if there aren't any games missed. So it won't just be the players and fans that lose if this happens.
A deal is struck in late September. This is when the two sides actually get a deal done. At this point, many fans will look at the deal and wonder: 'Why couldn't you have agreed to this last March?'
Free agency starts around October 1. This would be weird. Really weird. We're used to seeing free agency in March and players having the entire offseason to become acclimated to their new teammates and new playbooks. With little time to prepare for the season, I think the value of some of these free agents would drop. The guy you may have been willing to sign to a $50 million contract may only be worth $40 million in your eyes now because his first season with the team could be a waste with only a few weeks to learn a new offense and blend in with a new team.
Training camp starts around October 5. Shortly after free agency, teams would hit training camp for a couple of weeks. Collinsworth suggests two weeks which would sound about right in this scenario. Instead of training camp in the sweltering heat of August, some teams could be preparing for the season in snow. Cincinnati, for example, doesn't have a practice bubble. It's not wild to think it could be snowing in Cincinnati in mid-to-late October. Plus, some teams go away to local colleges for training camp. Would those facilities even be available at that time?
Regular season starts around the first week of November. Collinsworth says around the first of November but let's say the schedule stays the same and the season starts the first Sunday in November, which is the sixth. That would mean the first eight weeks of the season have been wiped out. I'm a Chiefs fan which means I wouldn't get to attend KC's Monday Night Football game against the Chargers on Halloween. So we're now dealing with a nine-week schedule.
The Super Bowl is pushed back a week. This could buy another game on the season but, at this point, I think fans are going to be pretty pissed off at both sides.
This scenario would be among the worst case variety. Actually, the worst case would be the entire season getting wiped out, which is still a possibility. But losing any number of games -- one, five or 10 -- would be devastating to the future health of the league. Fans have options on how they spend their time and money so I wouldn't be surprised if Collinsworth's prediction -- if it turns out to be accurate -- ends up costing the players and owners a lot of money and goodwill with the fans.