NFL’s Ever-Changing Labor Situation Casts Huge Cloud Over 2011 Draft
NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – Nick Fairley had to admit it. He’s starting to get nervous.
The day before the NFL draft, the All-American defensive tackle from Auburn took a trip with some other prospects to Radio City Music Hall, where three days of festivities start Thursday night with the first round.
“To see that draft symbol up on stage and to think that I’m going to be walking up there in about 24 hours, it was wild,” Fairley said. “A lot of mixed emotions. Who knows what’s going to happen?”
The NFL draft always is a guessing game, but never before has it been accompanied by so much uncertainty.
Not just who will be picked first — the betting favorite is Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton to the Carolina Panthers — but who goes where and when beyond that.
And this year, the selection process has the added element of labor strife — a lockout stopped by a federal judge earlier this week. Though the league will reopen for business on Friday, the draft has a chaotic feel with free agency still unclear.
“The world doesn’t stop spinning, we have to keep running and working,” Baylor guard Danny Watkins said. “It’s just disappointing the timing of it, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The draft has been the league’s only order of business since the lockout began March 12. A record 25 prospects accepted invitations to attend the draft itself, and 13 were on hand Wednesday for an NFL event with grade schoolers at a park on the West Side of Manhattan.
A dozen of the players spoke to the media after playing some flag football with the kids. Newton skipped out on the interviews. He took a few minutes to high-five some of the youngsters and sign autographs before slipping out a side gate with a few associates and into a waiting SUV.
The other players expressed little concern the labor impasse would affect the 2011 season.
“This is America’s game,” LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “I can’t see the world without NFL football.”
Peterson joined Fairley at another program later in the day with some high school football players at Niketown in midtown Manhattan.
There were concerns that pressure from the players would persuade many likely high-round draftees to skip the trip to New York.
Labor matters aside, many of the likely draftees and their families and friends soaked in the sights and sounds of the Big Apple.
The only draft prospect directly involved in the labor dispute is Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, projected to be a top-five pick.
He’s the college player who is a plaintiff in the antitrust lawsuit brought by NFL players against the league. Nine pros, including Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora and All-Pro quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, are plaintiffs, too, but Miller can’t wait to share the joy with Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I think he’s handled the situation well,” said Miller, considered by some the most NFL-ready talent in the entire draft. “There’s no animosity between me and him. I love him. I plan on giving him a hug when I walk across the stage.”
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