BY Doug Farrar 11:58PM 01/17/2011

Labor issues loom large on Seahawks’ exit day

For the Seahawks, the 2011 offseason could go on far too long

Matt Hasselbeck has been talking to teammates about what the possible lockout could mean to them. (Rod Mar/Seattle Seahawks)

The Seattle Seahawks flew back from Chicago on Sunday night with the knowledge that their season was over. After a team meeting with Pete Carroll on Monday afternoon, the players gathered in the locker room at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center to pack up their lockers and begin an offseason with what looks to have an indefinite distance at this time.

The league’s current agreement to keep football going expires on March 3, leaving a great many league employees – coaches, players, and support staff – essentially unemployed when teams lock the player out and shut down all but the most basic operations. Money is at the heart of the disagreements between the owners and the players; it always is. But there are specific issues germane to this particular time in the NFL that could affect the league’s potential and prosperity for years to come.

In short, the current labor unrest revolves around two instances of the number 18 – the 18-game regular-season schedule the owners want, and the 18-percent cost giveback the owners want off the top of all annual gross revenue.

The owners say that they need the extra percentage to offset cost overruns; the players say that the givebacks in a longer season would leave them risking their bodies and livelihoods for a lower cut than at any time before a Collective Bargaining Agreement has been in place. There are many more issues involved, but those are the two big ones, and the two sides have remained resolutely conflicted for months.

Seahawks player representative Chester Pitts, alternate Lawyer Milloy, and second alternate Matt Hasselbeck all spoke about the potential lockout as they readied for the offseason. Pitts’ focus was on the 18-game season, and the risks it presents to offensive linemen like himself, who are expected to take as many reps as possible in an environment that few can survive for too many seasons as it stands now.

Pitts finds the NFL’s current disconnect between its increased safety measures and the insistence on more games that count to be especially disturbing.

“Well, they’re talking out of both sides of their mouths,” Pitts said. “Let’s be real here. You’re really that worried about our health and our well-being, lower your requirements for what it takes to get … increase the benefits for the injured guys. (Increased roster size) would only help in practice, not in games, because … trust me, the best guys are gonna play. Especially as an offensive lineman. The best five will line up. I’m still waiting for a coach to stick his neck out and rotate linemen (as defensive linemen are rotated). For a guy who has played a long time in this league, it’s really, really tough. Unless they find a way to make teams sit their starters for a game or two, it’s gonna be really tough.”

Lawyer Milloy made a major difference in 2010, but labor issues could affect his future. (Drew Sellers/Sportspress Northwest)

For Milloy, a lockout may represent the end of a 15-year career that he still sees as unfinished. “The CBA is huge – it is very huge. That’s not going to affect just me; it’s going to affect all players. History repeats itself. The owners are very serious at this point, and the one thing the public needs to know is that when you hear the word ‘lockout’ … the players want to play. It’s the owners that want to lock us out. And that’s the message I want to let everybody on the outside know who might not know the situation. If you think the players are being greedy, it’s actually the owners’ chance to recoup some money and do whatever they want to do. We want to play football, we like the direction the league is going in, and money is being made.

“But it’s something we have to deal with. Is that something that will factor into my decision to give (pro football) another shot? I can’t say that it won’t. Hopefully, if the lockout goes into the season, I’ll have something else going on where I could walk away. But I haven’t thought about that. March 4 is the date, and right now, I’m a free agent player like a lot of guys in this locker room – available not only to this organization, but to 31 others.”

And that’s another point for the Seahawks front office to consider; 21 players on the 53-man roster and nine starters from the Bears playoff game will be walking around without contracts, including all three player reps.

Hasselbeck made the case that for the players whose retirement isn’t a question at this point, the ability to strike up workout programs without being told what to do and how to do it will have a distinct advantage when the lockout is over. This was an advantage the 1987 Washington Redskins rode to a Super Bowl win in a strike-shortened season.

Of course, veteran quarterbacks (and players at other positions which require more NFL experience) could have a distinct advantage if the lockout affects minicamps, training camps, and the preseason. In a full season, the Seahawks might be less inclined to “overpay” Hasselbeck for a return. But in a hypothetical truncated exhibition campaign before a season in which every play counts, Hasselbeck’s ability to run the team’s offense would make him a key cog in any hope of a return to the playoffs.

Hasselbeck also talked about the role he plays at this difficult time. “Just sharing information. Today was the first time we heard from the team – from John Schneider and Pete Carroll – and it was great. It was just a lot of good information. On my end, we’re just telling the guys and their wives things they need to know – ‘Hey, on March 4, your health insurance is gone and you have to get COBRA or whatever. For the guys whose wives are pregnant, stuff like that. For the guys who are on injured reserve, they need to rehab and get better – after March 4, you’re not allowed in the building, so you can’t do rehab here. You have to find somewhere else to go.”

In a recent media conference call, Cleveland Browns player rep Scott Fujita relayed the fact that he had heard from the pregnant wives of his teammates about their own health insurance; many of those expectant mothers wanted to know if they should induce labor before their health insurance ran out. And before you wonder why the wife of a multi-millionaire should be wondering about insurance, keep in mind that many more players make the league minimum – which averages in the middle six digits annually – without much in the way of a financial backup plan.

It’s amazing how the major things in life can equalize everything.

Fans will have the rest of the playoffs, the Super Bowl, the scouting combine, and the NFL Draft to anticipate. The labor talks will grow in volume as the sad, weird music of the offseason. As they have to be for their own survival, the players are at least one step ahead in their awareness of the issues to come.


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