"The Sunday Five" is a loosely-titled piece where I talk about five NFL- or Browns-related topics related to this past week. One topic dominates the discussion this week: the situation between the owners and the NFLPA.
I'm not sure what the appropriate term/phrase is for the current state of the NFL, whether it be a "lockout," a "decertification by the players union," or a "failure by both sides to agree upon a new collective bargaining agreement." I'm certainly paying attention to the events that have transpired so far and I understand the frustration that many fans have over the situation. Here is my take: when August rolls around, if something is in place to get some of training camp in and the season played, I'll be happy. All I want to see is our Cleveland Browns on television or in-person this season. We still have over 4-5 months until that could happen. Hopefully something can be worked out during that time.
Part of the reason I have not highlighted any free agents, whether they are from the Browns or potential free agents who would fill needs on our team, is that it has been difficult to tell when free agency would take place. If I brought up everyone in February and free agency didn't take place until July, it almost seemed pointless to think that far into the future and then do a rehash come July. Despite the current labor situation, it sounds like free agency could begin in a couple of weeks, as Peter King mentioned earlier in the week. Now it feels like a more appropriate time to look at the players who will be hitting free agency and some other players the Browns need to make decisions on (i.e. Lawrence Vickers and Abram Elam).
The Browns are switching to the West Coast Offense this year, leading some to believe that Cleveland will be especially hurt by the lockout since they can't practice their new system. Here is how I see it: our passing game was pretty weak last season, and even though Peyton Hillis had a great first season with the Browns, our lack of depth at the position hurt us. Basically, even with a lack of preparation under the new system, I don't really see our season being any worse than it was last year offensively. With Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie entering their third seasons with the Browns, I don't think it will matter how many reps they get before the season: either they get the new system and perform well in it, or they don't. From there, the front office can make some decisions in 2012 and beyond as to what receivers the team will operate with.
Defensively, the switch to a 4-3 would seem to create a few more issues than the switch on offense. I think the secondary will have a smooth transition. At linebacker, Scott Fujita should be fine in either system, but there is uncertainty with the status of D'Qwell Jackson being able to return to his old form. Other linebackers like Marcus Benard and Matt Roth, assuming the Browns bring them back, will be stuck in a situation where we don't quite know if they "fit." On the defensive line, Ahtyba Rubin has come into his own in the 3-4 the past couple of years, but who is to say he will be able to transition well enough in a 4-3? After him, we basically have three vacated positions on the defensive line. Considering how good the Browns played defensively when healthy last year, I fear that our defense might take a slight step back, at least to start off the season, if we can't find the proper personnel in the front seven.
When it comes to pure football-related events, could it be that the 2011 NFL Draft and the 2012 NFL Draft could occur back-to-back with nothing played in between? If a deal gets struck part-way into what would have been the season, is there a shortened season, or does the football year get pushed back further? Does that affect the site of the Super Bowl next year? If a season goes by with nothing happening, would that mean Pat Shurmur and company have had one year of their contract go by? Do other coaches become available? How many players start other careers (i.e. fighting) during the down time? There are a plethora of questions that I have if this thing continues on too long. In the end, my original point holds true: get a deal in place by August, and I will be a happy camper, with few questions asked.