A Fluid Situation


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Jan 22, 2006
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GRETZ: A Fluid Situation
Mar 03, 2006, 9:31:25 AM by Bob Gretz - FAQ

As I write these words, I know this: they may be obsolete by the time I punch the button for the period to finish the sentence.

To call the current state of labor affairs in the National Football League fluid is to severely under-estimate the changing nature of events from one moment to the next in professional football. Thursday morning, NFL Commish Paul Tagliabue appeared before the media looking like he’d just lost his best friend. Called to New York for a special meeting, the NFL owners voted 32-0 according to Tags to stop the negotiating process with the players. Commish called the situation dire, and later amended that to say “as dire as dire can be.”

Before the sun went down, the league and players had an agreement – to push back the start of free agency for three days. The league teams were to be under the salary cap of $94.5 million by the time the clock hit midnight and Thursday became Friday. Instead, that will not happen now until Sunday night and who knows if that isn’t pushed back again.

There’s a lot on the line here, so these parties need to get done what they need to get done without artificial deadlines. But this thing is driving the individual clubs crazy, because they have to find a way to get under the cap for 2006, while not sure what cap number they may be working with this year, in 2007 and beyond.

Take the Chiefs, who cut loose four players Thursday afternoon, before the league and union decided to push back the start of the salary cap and free agency. Once that was done, the releases of Shawn Barber, Gary Stills, Dexter McCleon and Eric Warfield were wiped out by the league.

It’s doubtful whether the delay will change much of anything with these four players, because the decisions likely were not based strictly on cap figures. None of the moves was a surprise.

Warfield was the only starter in this first group of cuts and while his cap number was certainly big, this move wasn’t just about money. For the Chiefs to play the type of defense that both Herman Edwards and Gunther Cunningham are looking for in 2006, Warfield doesn’t fit. It’s not a matter of ability, because there are very few cornerbacks in the league that have the natural skills of Warfield, who turns 30 on Friday.

His on-field problem has always been his inability to stay focused for play after play. There have been far too many occasions over his starting career where he’s made an All-Pro play on first down and fell asleep on third down, giving up a big play or allowing the chains to move. Combine that with his off-field problems and there doesn’t remain much upside for Warfield. That’s too bad because Warfield is really not a bad person. Even in the most difficult times, he’s been a standup guy and answered every one’s questions about his problems or performances. The problem is most of those answers were about bad situations, on and off the field.

McCleon has been unreliable because of his health; after starting 16 games in 2003, he missed three games completely in 2004 and five games last season. He will be 33 in October. Stills has been a one-dimensional player and while his contributions in the kicking game have been solid, the Chiefs special teams have not been special the last two years. At his age (he’ll be 32 in July) it’s time to find new blood. Barber has been available for just 11 of the last 32 games because of injury, plus he’s already turned 30.

The Chiefs will likely have another round of cuts, but that’s going to depend on what is that final salary cap figure. Will it stay at $94.5 million or will there be an extension of the collective bargaining agreement and push that number higher?

Stay tuned, the word in the NFL is fluid.

The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.

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