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Irreparable Damage ?

Will Mario Fannin have a chance at NFL free agency or will he have a new home in the UFL?

Unless you have been out of the country for the last three months, you have to be aware of the on going NFL labor dispute. At one time there was a question whether there would even be a draft held this year. The courts intervened in that one and now the question is, "Will the unsettled dispute do 'irreparable damage' to the upcoming season and more importantly to the player's careers?"

The closer it gets to training camps, to the preseason, and to August the more likely the possibility that regular season games will be lost. There has even been speculation from some quarters that the 2011 season could be cancelled.

The current trouble began on March 11th when The NFL and Players Association's collective bargaining agreement expired. Efforts to establish a new agreement failed. That failure resulted in the decertification of the union; with the players filing suit against the owners and the owners responding with a lockout

On April 25, a judge in Minnesota granted an injunction to lift the lockout effectively agreeing with the players that a lockout could do their careers "irreparable damage." Yet many players were turned away from training facilities under the guise that management had to have more clarification from the court before they would open for business. Then on May 2 the lockout was put back in force by the courts.

Until the dispute is settled once and for all, there is no place for undrafted free agents. With no free agency, the undrafted players are in limbo and won't be able to sign with teams until an agreement can be reached.

At present the league has appealed to the 8th Circuit Court asking for a stay to the order lifting the lockout. No matter the outcome, this stalemate will probably drag into the summer. If that happens, there will be several losers, not the least of which will be the fans who pay the bills. However, no group will be more negatively impacted than the 2011 class of undrafted players.

In a normal season players that failed to be selected in the draft become free agents, and often have several teams offering them a chance to become a pro immediately at the end of the draft. Last year over a hundred undrafted players made a team including the SEC's leading sack specialist, Auburn's Antonio Coleman, who played for Buffalo. In addition, the NFL's 2010 leading rusher Arian Foster made the Texan's roster after going undrafted out of Tennessee in 2009. And 23 undrafted free agents made the 2011 Pro Bowl.

But if a player is to make a team as a free agent, it is imperative that he get to camp early, learn the playbook and work hard to make the roster. Every day that there is no labor agreement, these players fall further behind and their dreams grow dimmer.

Players like Auburn's running back Mario Fannin and Darvin Adams - the National Champions top receiver for the past two years; and Auburn's All-SEC players Josh Bynes, Ryan Pugh, Antoine Carter, Byron Isom and Zac Etheridge. Of course there are dozens of other players like West Virginia's Noel Devine, Kentucky's Derrick Locke, and North Carolina's Deunta Williams who was one of the top-rated safeties heading into this year's NFL Draft.

Some of these players, like Mario Fannin may have to choose between signing with the Canadian or United Fooball Leagues and waiting for the end to the NFL lockout.

At the present time it looks like the lockout will continue until a court resolution is reached. The case is expected to be heard by the 8th Circuit Court at a fast tracked hearing scheduled for June 3rd.

Even if an unlikely agreement could be reached on that date, the new players will have lost four to six weeks of rookie camps and training camps. The shortened preparation time could be devastating to the free agents learning curve, leaving them way behind the veterans.

If it drags out till August or September the NFL would have to shortened the season which could leave many players out since the teams would not have to plan for injuries.

Consequently the oft used phrase through out this drama - "irreparable damage" really applies to the biggest losers in all this ...

The undrafted free agents.