The draft came, yielding Julio Jones and Jacquizz Rodgers, and then it went. The Falcons bettered themselves (by a lot) on offense, but not on defense. For that to happen, they need free agency to happen.
And it might. It also might not.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the NFL owners a permanent stay Monday in this bewildering game of negotiation-via-litigation, which essentially means the players, who were briefly unlocked-out last month, will have to keep organizing their own Organized Team Activities. The Court of Appeals set June 3 as the date for a further hearing, but since that hearing will be conducted before the same body that just voted 2-1 in favor of the owners, the players shouldn’t expect any relief.
The upshot: The players are in real trouble. They out-lawyered the NFL early, but the NFL, which is a league built on comebacks, fashioned a rousing courthouse comeback. The players now have two choices: Either they stick to their beliefs and try to win via mediated negotiation — good luck with that — or they cave.
If they don’t cave, there’s a good chance the NFL won’t go to training camp on time. If the NFL calendar gets pushed back significantly, there’s a chance any settlement, assuming there is one, would essentially wipe out free agency for 2011. (Guys who were supposed to become free agents would go back to last year’s team at last year’s pay, goes the thinking.) And that wouldn’t help the Falcons find their defensive end.
Pretty much everyone, esteemed colleague D. Orlando Ledbetter chief among them, has identified Minnesota defensive end Ray Edwards as a Falcons target. He was scheduled to become a restricted free agent, and the Vikings placed a first-round tender on him. But it’s clear, from this story by Mark Craig in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, that Edwards wants out.
(Oddly enough, Edwards has a professional sporting event scheduled for this weekend, lockout notwithstanding. He’s to make his debut as a boxer at the Grand Casino in Hinckley, Minn. No word on whether he has hired Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith to work his corner.)
Back to the lockout. The longer it lasts, the worse things look for teams still looking to add. The good news for the Falcons is that they were in better shape than most already. The less-good news is that they still need a defensive end, and the clock’s ticking.
By Mark Bradley