NFC North teams brace for extended lockout
In Wednesday's Chicago Tribune the Bears ran a full-page ad in the sports section that read: "Despite the current labor situation, we're pushing forward. Doing everything we can to continue to improve. Keeping our heads in the game. We all want football. And when it's back, we'll be ready. Hitting the field with one goal in mind - winning a Super Bowl for Chicago.
"For the latest on the labor situation and the most up-to-date Bears news, visit ChicagoBears.com."
The headline above the message featured the team's logo, a bear's head, followed by the words, "WITH US." Get it? Bear with us.
The day after the NFLPA decertified and the league announced a lockout of the players, Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips issued a statement that read: "We're disappointed in the need to take this step, but it is necessary for the long-term health of our league. Ultimately we believe an agreement will be reached at the bargaining table. As an individual club, our team focus is on our preparation for the 2011 season and we want Bears fans to know we are going to continue to do everything we can within the League rules to prepare for a championship season. Our immediate focus is on preparing for the draft. We also continue to evaluate our team and will be ready to take advantage of all avenues to improve our team once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
"Some aspects of this offseason may look different, but our commitment to winning remains the same. We need to build off the success we had in 2010. We are committed to our fan base and appreciate their patience throughout this process. We will do our best to create opportunities for Bears fans to ask questions and keep them informed of what is happening with their team and the labor discussions. We still plan to host fan events this offseason starting with our 'Ultimate Weekend,' which includes our Draft Party and Bears Expo at Soldier Field.
"A deal will get done and we expect to play football in 2011. Our goal remains the same as we prepare to play, bringing a Super Bowl title back to Chicago."
On March 4, Phillips announced that Bears coaches and staff members would not face layoffs, furloughs or immediate pay cuts in the event of a lockout.
Phillips told team employees that the organization would proceed with a business-as-usual approach in an effort to maintain a competitive edge.
However, if the work stoppage causes regular-season games to be cancelled, Phillips said pay cuts would be instituted at that time.
The one thing both Lions' players and managers agree upon is that, one way or another, football will be played in 2011.
"What is most important right now is getting ready to play football in 2011," said team president Tom Lewand March 12, hours after the league imposed a lockout. "Everything we've done is geared toward that; with the way we're preparing for free agency, which isn't taking place right now, to preparing for the draft, which will take place.
"All of our preparations continue and nothing that's happened in the last couple of weeks or the last couple of days has changed that focus. Our hope and expectation is that we will be playing football in 2011."
Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, the team's player rep, is so certain that there will be a season, he's organized team workouts at a local health club.
"It's all that we know as players and all that owners know and it's what the fans want, and that's the most important thing," Vanden Bosch said. "At the end of the day, I've got to provide for my family and the owners got to provide for their families, but we're entertainers and we do it for the fans. It would be unfortunate to let fans down because they love the sport as much as we do."
That said, Vanden Bosch still supported the union's decision to decertify.
"At this point, there's a lot of players who are potential free agents, and they're still kind of trying to figure out what's next for them," Vanden Bosch said. "There's guys coming out of college that are draft picks – they know the draft is coming up but they're not sure what's next in the process after that. And guys like me who are geared up for what would normally be the start of an offseason program, which is kind of in limbo right now, waiting for somebody to tell us what we can, what we can't do and what's expected of us.
"It's going to be decisions that are made for us, and a lot of things are just going to be decided in court, and we're just going to have to wait for it."
Lewand said the coaching staff has completed all the prep work for free agency, which normally would have already been under way.
"We are ready to go on free agency," he said. "We have been geared toward planning for various contingencies and we are ready to see how it is impacted by rule changes or new policies."
Lewand reiterated what general manager Martin Mayhew had said during the NFL combine, the team will be able to monitor the rehabilitation progress of its injured players.
"We have our players set up in rehabilitation facilities around the country and we have lines of communication open with those facilities where we can monitor their rehabilitation progress," he said.
Teams cannot talk directly to the players, however. Among the Lions' players coming off surgeries are quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder), linebacker DeAndre Levy (groin), cornerback Chris Houston (shoulder), safety Louis Delmas (groin), kicker Jason Hanson (knee), defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (shoulder) and right tackle Gosder Cherilus (knee).
Lewand also said that there would no staff layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts at least until after the draft.
As for the impact the lockout might have on season-ticket sales, Lewand said that both season-ticket renewals and new season-ticket sales were up. He said letters had gone out, both electronically and paper mail, to season-ticket holders on Saturday, informing them that there would be refunds with interest should games be cancelled.
"We have a good relationship with our season-ticket base," Lewand said. "We will continue to maintain direct communication through our web site and emails. But the bottom line is, they want us to play football. They aren't interested in hearing about what side has what, or in the posturing that's happening at the negotiating table or in the court room. They are interested in watching Lions football.
"We understand that. We get it. And that's what we are focusing on, as well. We want to play football and build on our last four games of last season and build on things we've been doing as an organization the last two years."
Green Bay Packers
A week into the first work stoppage in the NFL in nearly a quarter century, the Packers have embraced a proactive game plan.
The fenced-in staff parking lot outside Lambeau Field is bereft of the vehicles of the banished players, but traffic continues to stream into the nearby public lots at the iconic stadium.
"This is not a time for us to pull back in terms of reaching out to fans and providing access to the stadium," said Jason Wied, the team's vice president of administration and general counsel. "Regardless of the situation we're in, we just won a Super Bowl.
"Our fans are not going to quit coming to the stadium, enjoying being a part of Lambeau Field because of a legal situation going on within the league. We are open for business. We are going to spend money to continue to reach out to our fans."
The Super Bowl XLV-winning achievement Feb. 6 not only has been a financial boon for the Packers to draw more visitors than usual to their merchandise store and Hall of Fame at Lambeau as well as take a stadium tour, but they also are in an advantageous position with football personnel to endure an extended lockout.
Head coach Mike McCarthy hadn't planned to start the offseason workout program for his players until mid-April, about a month later than usual, following their lengthy season. Green Bay didn't have any significant coaching changes, and a young, talented roster will stay mostly intact.
"Everything we do is to prepare to play football again on a regular schedule," Wied said. "Football operations are continuing to operate as usual.
"(General manger) Ted (Thompson) and (president) Mark (Murphy) made the decision they will have this organization ... ready to go in a very short turnaround."
The Packers are in a lot better shape financially than most teams to get by initially during the lockout, which the league owners imposed March 11 after the players' union pulled out of further labor negotiations and decertified.
The league's only publicly owned franchise has a protective war chest with a preservation fund of $127.5 million, though Wied indicated the club wouldn't have to tap into that for the time being since its debt is small.
"The Packers are lucky. We don't have that issue," Wied said. "It allows us quite a bit of room to get through a tough time. But, at the same time, we are making some sacrifices to make sure we get through (the lockout) responsibly."
As such, the organization initiated a hiring and wage freeze and also tentative pay cuts for high-ranking employees, among them Murphy, Thompson and McCarthy. The salary cutbacks had yet to take effect, Wied said.
What's more, there's no immediate plans to scale back the team's workforce, particularly with coaches and scouts, through furloughs or layoffs.
Although Murphy publicly rebuked the actions of the players union - "We argue that decertification was a sham and a bargaining tactic," he said after sitting in with the owners' negotiating team at the federally mediated talks in Washington, D.C. - he is optimistic the two sides will reach accord on a new collective bargaining agreement before next season.
"In terms of our fans, I know they're disappointed just as we are," Murphy said. "You see the media reports and discussions that say this will result in lost games in the regular season. Well, we're still very far away from that.
"I would encourage people that let's be reflective, we still have a lot of time. Hopefully, at the end of the day, cooler heads will prevail, and we'll be able to reach an agreement without any interruption in terms of games and even training camp."
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