By Brock Huard
The March 3 deadline looms and the rhetoric continues to grow stronger between the NFL owners and its players. With the very real threat of a lockout, it is worth evaluating who will be the biggest losers if and when a work stoppage takes place.
As one evaluates the 32 different organizations in football, it is clear the Seahawks will be one of the teams hit hardest by an extended lockout and here is why.
Of the 32 teams in the NFL, I believe there are 20 with a leg up on the rest because of stability within the organization - a proven starting quarterback currently under contract, or a clear identity of the brand/style of football they want to play. Most of these teams have a core of veteran players familiar with the schemes and techniques implemented by their coaching staffs. Thus, missing Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and mini camps won't be as detrimental as it will to the other 12 teams.
The 20 teams in a much more stable environment than the Seahawks are:
1. Green Bay
5. NY Giants
7. Tampa Bay
9. New Orleans
10. St Louis
11. New England
12. NY Jets
19. San Diego
20. Kansas City
That leaves the unlucky dozen: San Francisco, Arizona, Seattle, Carolina, Minnesota, Washington, Oakland, Denver, Cleveland, Tennessee, Miami and Buffalo.
Technically speaking, Miami, Carolina, Washington, Cleveland, Oakland, and Denver may have their starting quarterback under contract, but they are certainly unproven at this point.
One other major factor in determining the amount of loss these 12 teams face this offseason is how much money and flexibility these teams have to spend and upgrade their roster. With the huge supply of free agents available, how many millions would be available for a team to re-shape its roster and fit under a future salary cap structure?
Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com broke down the amount of money each of the 12 teams have obligated to players currently under contract for 2011. This number does not reflect restricted free agents under the club's control, but it is a great tool to compare and contrast just how much room a team could have to spend.
For reference, the salary cap back in 2009 (the last capped year) was roughly $130 million. Here is how the 12 measure up - with Carolina in the best position to revamp its roster - but also for our exercise of ranking, the most damaged and hurt if the offseason is shrunk and marred by a lockout:
1. Carolina, $73 million
2. Seattle, $81 million
3. Arizona, $83 million
4. Oakland, $85 million
5. Buffalo, $96 million
6. Cleveland, $99 million
7. San Francisco, $101 million
8. Miami, $103 million
9. Tennessee, $107 million
10. Minnesota, $108 million
11. Washington, $115 million
12. Denver, $125 million
What jumps out with these numbers is the fact that Carolina, Seattle, Arizona and Oakland clearly had a vision for the 2011 offseason to give themselves flexibility and cap space to compete and win on the free agent market. If the league is on lockdown mode for an extended period of time, and free agency is drastically reduced, these four teams in particular have the most to lose.
One last point of emphasis before ranking the 12 teams is remembering that under the old CBA rules, newly hired coaches were given extra practice time, through mini camps and OTAs in the offseason. The new coaches could have two extra mini camps with up to six extra practices. These extra days were beneficial to get the playbook installed and get the players acclimated to the new coaches' philosophy. With an extended lockout, seven of the 12 teams would lose out on this extra time.
Finally, the rankings of those organizations most hurt by an extended lockout and just where the Seahawks fit:
1. Carolina. The organization forced John Fox to go young last season and shed an enormous amount of money. They have the most money to spend, a whole new coaching staff and a change in philosophy on both sides of the ball. Clearly No. 1 on this list.
2. Cleveland. An aggressive owner willing to spend and tens of millions available to target free agents. Mike Holmgren cleaned house and a young offense will have to learn the West Coast system. This could be an offseason where Colt McCoy could make real strides and growth from Year One to Year Two.
3. Tennessee. Sticking with the theme of new coaches needing to implement a whole new system, first time head coach Mike Munchak could really use an entire offseason to find his quarterback of the future and bind his new staff together.
4. Seattle. John Schneider and Pete Carroll have their eyes set on this offseason to continue the overhaul and rebuilding of their roster. With an enormous amount of money to spend, young talent to develop, and a quarterback situation to resolve, an extended lockout will damage the plan.
5. San Francisco. A lot of the pieces are together defensively, but Jim Harbaugh has a diverse and complex offensive system to install and a quarterback mess to deal with. Young talent needs to grow on offense, and though ownership is frugal, they are not always cheap and there will be money to spend.
6. Oakland. Impossible to analyze the workings of Al Davis.
7. Arizona. Like most on this list, they need to find their quarterback of the future. The Bidwells are cheap as owners, but there is lots of room to compete on the free agent market if they loosen up the purse strings. Another new defensive coordinator for Ken Whisenhunt as well.
8. Denver. John Fox has a major undertaking to change the identity of this team. The Broncos are a long ways away from resembling the physical run game and dominating defense that defines Fox's game. The Broncos would be higher up on this list if they didn't have $125 million committed for the 2011 season.
9. Buffalo. See also Oakland above, just substitute Ralph Wilson and Buddy Nix for Al Davis.
10. Minnesota. Leslie Frazier knows his personnel and has plenty of veterans who can work through a tumultuous offseason. The challenge is a new offensive coordinator in Bill Musgrave and an unresolved quarterback situation.
11. Washington. Year Two for Mike Shanahan with Daniel Snyder. Good luck, and what are the plans at quarterback?
12. Miami. Tony Sparano was spared this offseason and is the second longest tenured coach on this list. There is some money to spend, and Sparano's physical brand of football has been implemented. The challenge is offensive firepower and consistency at quarterback.