Through Tuesday morning, three franchises had canceled their plans to conduct training camps at sites other than their own in-season complexes, creating some financial distress at those campuses and the small communities which traditionally play host to the summer activities for about half the league's franchises.
Even with the league and its soon-to-be-recertified players association moving inexorably toward a CBA resolution, the daunting logistics of taking training camp on the road figure to force further cancelations this week. There remains another camp element, though, that hasn't much been mentioned but that could be curtailed or postponed: The issue of mixed team workouts, a matter that, even with all the contingency-based planning that has taken place in club offices throughout the offseason, remains up in the air.
But which is quickly losing altitude.
"By now, you pretty much have every (camp) scenario worked out, and you're not hearing anything about (joint) workouts," said one NFC coach whose team has not been a part of practices with other teams during his tenure, but which was soliciting some potential practice partners until about a month ago. "I'd heard some really good things about them, and was kind of open to the idea, but that was then, and this is now. And right now, I'm just focusing on what we can do ourselves."
Over the past week, The Sports Xchange contacted officials from roughly half of the 32 teams, and there seems little sentiment for combined practices. Two teams that had planned joint get-togethers canceled those plans a week or so ago. What once seemed like an idea with growth potential has been stunted by the lockout.
In 2010, there were only seven franchises that agreed to practice together, for a total of just five multi-day sessions. Three of the teams, New England, New Orleans and Atlanta, each scheduled two sessions apiece: the Falcons with the Patriots and Jaguars; the Pats with the Saints, in addition to the Falcons; and New Orleans with Houston and, obviously, New England.
Jack Del Rio
Arizona and Tennessee also participated in joint camp practices.
The feeling was that, with the specter of a reduced preseason - remember, talk of an 18-game regular season was rampant at the time - the joint camp sessions would dramatically increase. "It's coming," said Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio, "because you're going to need to work against someone else. And the benefits are a lot better than I thought they would be."
All of the coaches involved in the 2010 joint practices, most notably the Patriots' Bill Belichick, echoed such evaluations.
But a not-so-funny thing happened to the notion that mixed camp practices might return to the levels of 15-20 years ago, when they weren't quite the rage, but were a big part of the summertime schedule for about half the teams in the league. Talk of the 18-game schedule became victim to the CBA discussions, a negotiating chip the owners were willing to sacrifice, one that was removed as a "must have" from the bargaining table. Perhaps more important, the lockout dragged on, compressing the timeframe for camp planning.
If, as ESPN strongly suggested in its Monday report, the league year commences on July 28, assembling a roster on the fly will be difficult enough, with most camps set to open just a day or so later. The clusterfudge of setting practice dates with other teams in the league figure to be superfluous exercises in which most coaches simply won't want to engage.
Sure, a few coaches and general managers insisted to The Sports Xchange over the past couple days that combined practices were so productive that they prefer to continue them and possibly even expand the number. Even a few players chimed in on the matter of combined workouts. Said veteran linebacker Mike Peterson of the Falcons, a pending unrestricted free agent who hopes to re-sign in Atlanta when the lockout finally ends: "If you're looking to (stoke) the emotions of camp, and get your people more excited, it's a great (tool)."
Given the ramifications of the lockout, though, it's probably a tool that will remain in the chest for the summer of 2011.
The priority for coaches once the lockout ends, as it should be, is to prepare their own clubs for the season. The emphasis will be on learning quickly, and perhaps on simplifying schemes on both sides of the ball, and that likely won't leave any wiggle room for the extraneous.
Like combined practices.
"It's a 'me' league, not a 'we' league," said one NFC coach. "The idea of practicing against another team might be somewhat appealing, and you would have definitely seen more of it with a preseason schedule that was cut back. But with the situation like it is now, I just can't see it being as productive."
Which means that, like the 18-game schedule, the idea will probably be tabled for another time.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.