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Year in Sports : Locked out: NFL lockout leaves uncertain future for SU’s undrafted

September 17, 2020

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Year in Sports: Part 8 of 8Doug Marrone became used to the process. For Marrone, now Syracuse’s head coach, it became natural year after year in his six seasons in the National Football League. For all the uncertainty the NFL Draft brings, the only constant is the process.After seven rounds of teams’ picks, the rest of the draft pool fell to free agency. It was Marrone’s favorite part of the process. Every year he coached in the NFL, an undrafted free agent was added to either the practice squad or 53-man roster.‘That’s important,’ Marrone said last Friday, a sense of urgency rippling through his voice. ‘Some of those free agents have developed into stars, when you look around the NFL.’This year, though, that process is disrupted. On March 12, the NFL announced a lockout of its players by the league’s 32 owners. Nearly two months later, after some twists in its path, the lockout remains in effect. The lockout closes all free agency and trade dealings between teams. And right now, the 2011 NFL season remains in limbo.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe NFL still held its 2011 Draft last week, but teams cannot sign their draftees or other newly minted free agents that were not drafted. And it’s something that troubles Marrone.‘I worry from my opinion, as a former player, as a former coach,’ Marrone said. ‘If they don’t have this free agency and they don’t clear it up afterward, who is that potential player that could have been?’On April 25, U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson temporarily lifted the lockout after it had stretched to a period of 45 days. Hours later, the owners reinstated the lockout. On Monday, the NFL filed a brief with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis that said the lockout should remain in permanent effect until the two sides — players and owners — work out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.With Syracuse, the lockout affects both new draftees and past stars. For the newly drafted, it’s a matter of when their contract will come. For the undrafted, it’s a waiting game. And it’s a matter of waiting to see what any potential new CBA would do for an improvement in the NFL’s lackluster pension plan for already established and former players.Most associated with SU do not expect the lockout to cast its shadow over an entire NFL season. Too much is at stake in a $9 billion industry.But until that shadow departs, doubt remains.‘The longer it lasts, the worse off we’ll be,’ said former SU center Ryan Bartholomew, who went undrafted last weekend. ‘But I think they’ll get something done.’‘Sooner or later’Doug Hogue believes one simple switch got him to this point. Buried in Greg Robinson’s depth chart at running back at Syracuse, what happened Saturday seemed unfathomable.Saturday, the Detroit Lions selected Hogue with the 157th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft — the 26th pick in the fifth round.Hogue said he owes all of it to Marrone for moving him from running back to linebacker. Otherwise, he might be in the same uncertain state as many of his fellow seniors from this past season’s Pinstripe Bowl-winning SU team.‘I give him all the credit,’ Hogue said. ‘When it comes down to it, Coach Marrone saw something that nobody else saw. He made the move. Coach Robinson had me at running back. … He moved me to defense, and it worked out the best for me.’Hogue was one of two members of last year’s Syracuse team to be selected in the draft. The other, running back Delone Carter, went 119th overall — the 22nd pick in the fourth round — to the Indianapolis Colts. Missing from the fray were Bartholomew, linebacker Derrell Smith, punter Rob Long and defensive back/punt returner Mike Holmes.Those players now have to wait until the labor situation is resolved before even talking to any of the 32 NFL teams.‘No matter what,’ Carter said of his teammates, ‘their time and opportunity is coming. Because they’ve worked too hard. And we worked too hard as a senior class to not get what we all worked for. It’s coming. Sooner or later.’Ending on holdFor Rob Long, the fairytale comes to life if he’s able to punt in the NFL next season.‘It’d be very gratifying,’ Long said of the potential of punting in an NFL game. ‘Obviously, just to show what is possible and what can be accomplished. To get to that point, it’d be gratifying if I hadn’t gone through everything. You throw that all in, and it would just make everything sweeter.’Long stood among SU’s undrafted last weekend. Through everything he did to overcome the brain cancer with which he was diagnosed in December, he hopes he gets a chance to finally get back on the field in a game situation.Bob Long, Rob’s father, remembers the toll it took on the Long family for more than three months — and how it made the family stronger in the end. There were the five-day-a-week treatments for nearly two months. There were the dietary changes Rob made at his nutritionist’s advice.Bob made the trip to Syracuse with his son for the university’s Pro Day, when Long kicked in front of NFL scouts. It was the first time Long punted in a formal setting since the Orange’s regular-season finale against Boston College, after weeks of kicking at Downington West High School’s field in his hometown.‘He knew he had a goal to meet,’ Bob Long said of his son. ‘He knew what he had to do to get there.’During the draft, Bartholomew found anything and everything to do rather than sit in front of a television all weekend. He cleaned his room. He cleaned other areas in his home in Maryland.When he finally ran out of places to clean, he would peek at his grandmother’s reactions to the draft, as she stared at it intently on the screen. Judging from her reactions and the absence of phone calls on his end, Bartholomew knew his name wasn’t flashing across the screen.‘She was the one watching it,’ Bartholomew said. ‘I was just trying to do other things.’Bartholomew said six teams contacted him during the scouting process to express interest, but none ended up selecting him. After the Pinstripe Bowl, Bartholomew ventured to Florida to train for the combine with SU cornerback Da’Mon Merkerson and the linebacker Smith.For two months in Florida, the three were trained in drills specific to the combine, rather than football-specific drills. They ate certain foods, lifted weights different ways from week to week and worked a lot with their technique. Their performances in the combine confirmed the training paid off. But it wasn’t enough.‘It’s very confusing,’ Smith said of the NFL labor situation. ‘Hopefully, they settle. … But, I mean, you can never be so sure, because we’re not in the courtroom.’Bartholomew and Smith believe the labor situation will eventually be resolved. So do Bob and Rob Long. Until he gets on the field, though, Rob won’t consider the fairytale ending a guarantee.‘It’s a big concern,’ Long said. ‘The next step on any given year would be to go through the free-agency process. I know I could get signed with that. … It’s something I’ve kept a close eye on.’Eye on the pastIn 2009, Mike Charles walked into the Doral Country Club in Doral, Fla. for the Dolphins’ 25-year anniversary celebration of their 1984-85 season, when they reached the Super Bowl.Immediately, Charles, a former Syracuse defensive tackle from 1979-83, noticed two players missing — defensive back Gerald Small and running back Andra Franklin.They were dead. There were others who had serious health issues.‘We need to give guys some help,’ Charles said. ‘We need to give guys some more light at the end of the tunnel.’Charles represents how the lockout affects Syracuse’s past players. As a former NFL player, Charles advocates the need for increased pension funds for retired players.Future pension plans have been a major issue in the fight over a new CBA. In March, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said the league contributes ‘zero’ to player pensions. The league responded by saying the owners have contributed more than $2.7 billion in the past 10 years to player pensions, according to an Associated Press article from March 30.Charles, now 48, said he doesn’t yet need to collect his pension fund because he has a steady income. He founded All Pro Locksmith, LLC, in Glendale, Ariz., in 2008.He says he has the same problems as every other retiree. Aches and pains. No cartilage in his knee.But he can’t say the same for many of his peers, as he rifles off a list of ailments — diabetes, cancer, prostate issues — that have afflicted former players he knows and have not been fully addressed.‘There are so many different things,’ Charles said. ‘They need to do something to address it.’In early March, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to every current NFL player stating that the owners’ latest proposal to players would have guaranteed more than 2,000 former players an immediate 60 percent pension increase, according to the AP article.Without an agreement now, though, a pension plan remains on hold. And those who have left the NFL remain on hold, much like those currently trying to get in.‘You have guys walking with canes,’ Charles said, ‘and they’re my age.’Uncertain futureThe one pick Bartholomew made sure to watch in the NFL Draft was its last. He saw Rice defensive end Cheta Ozougwu go off the board with pick No. 254.Ozougwu became ‘Mr. Irrelevant,’ the nickname given to the final pick in the draft each year. For as long as the lockout continues, Ozougwu will stand as the last player to be associated with a team.And even though his path comes with uncertainty, Bartholomew hoped and prayed he wouldn’t be picked last.‘I was happy it wasn’t me,’ Bartholomew said. ‘… I was just hoping I wouldn’t get picked at that point, so I could pick a situation that would be good for me.’But the uncertainty lends itself to questions. Marrone, a former offensive lineman, sympathizes with Bartholomew’s plight. As an offensive line coach, he could rank offensive linemen from No. 1 to 100. But since he didn’t have a sense of the entire scope of the draft, he couldn’t pin where those offensive linemen should go off the board.But if Marrone got it wrong and ranked too many linemen to get drafted, he could always find that one player in free agency to make the practice squad or team. Now, the SU head coach wonders if one of his former players is the piece that will never fall into place if the labor situation never gets resolved.‘How does that player still maintain that dream and development of becoming an NFL player, when after the last round is over Saturday, it ends?’ Marrone said. ‘I feel for that because we may be talking about one of our players that way.‘I think a lot of them, if not all of them, might be in a camp. And it might not work out that way.’[email protected] Published on May 2, 2011 at 12:00 pmcenter_img Commentslast_img

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