So the NFL has officially locked out the players and put a cease and desist on any communication between management and the players. As late as last week, the owners and the (former) players union seemed to be at least making some progress towards a solution, but since the Friday deadline passed, rhetoric has turned harsh, lawsuits have been filed and even the most optimistic NFL lockout-watchers are bracing for a protracted labor stoppage. Of course, this is perfect timing for the St. Louis Rams, right? And by perfect timing, I mean this lockout LITERALLY couldn't have come at a worse time, on three separate fronts.
Front A: Player Development
The Rams finished 2010 at 7-9, their star on a definitive rise. Groupthink had the Rams being strategic in free agency, shrewd in the draft and sharp with their coaching to be a real, honest-to-God contender for the NFC West title in 2011.
The Rams haven't made any free agent moves, sans cutting OJ Atogwe and some lesser known players, and time will tell when they'll be able to try and make some movement in this area. Problem is, no one knows when this lockout will end, and when it finally does the Rams haven't proven themselves to be aggressive. So they're probably not going to be able to court a top tier player on this very short notice. Ugh.
Further, the men they do sign won't have any time to get integrated with the new coaches, especially on offense. Sam Bradford may or may not have had a few sessions with Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels, but I think we can all agree that we're not comfortable with the cornerstone of the franchise heading into year two with about 5% of the working relationship he had in his rookie year, right?
And the draft? Well, that's still going off as planned, but will the rookies really be able to contribute anything when they don't have any off-season plan or workouts on their schedule? Think about how bad guys like Trung Candidate have been for the Rams WITH a full offseason of coaching.
And this Draft issue won't just affect the Rams, true. But the Rams were also the one team with title aspirations that needs to count on rookie contributions the most. So it hurts them more than, say, the Patriots, who are loaded with premium draft picks.
Front B: Fan Development
I've been in that dome for most of the past four years. And while the energy level and excitement of the fans was better in 2010 than the previous 3 years... it was also nowhere near the apex of fandom for the Rams in 2003-ish.
The Rams honked countless amounts of dong for many years and the sanity level of the paying consumer for Rams football should have probably been questioned more thoroughly. Franchises survive on these faceless mega-fans, but they don't become profitable until they get the people that could go either way on the Rams.
So the NFL lockout will cause severe angst in a places like Dallas or Green Bay, but in St. Louis, it's only going to breed more apathy towards the Rams and validate the people that didn't get on board in 2010. The franchise and the fans were at a delicate tipping point at the end of the regular season. A protracted lockout will all but kill any momentum the team had in carving out a niche that would keep them in St. Louis for good.
Front C: Franchise Development
No beating around the bush here—the Rams as a franchise are concerned with this current lockout.
They are MORE concerned with 2014, when they are free to exit their lease and _______... Leave. Build a new stadium. Stay at the EJD for a reduced price. Whatever.
We've been circling around this elephant in the room for some time, and a partial or full season lost will not only hurt the Rams owner immediately, but it will also factor into the five-year plan when they decide what to do. When you're out hundreds of millions of dollars, it's not as easy to 'take one for the city' and give back to a community that is pretty meh on the whole deal in the first place.
If Stan decides that a move to LA would instantly wipe out lost revenue from a cancelled 2011 season, would we blame him? Could we blame him? He'd be the only owner who could claim that an unplayed season was a wash on his bottom line.
Further, wouldn't he then be in a market with the only fan-base not antagonized by said lockout?
Seems like a fairly attractive option to me, at least on the surface. Of course, we believe ownership will do the right thing and try to make this work in St. Louis... but if they don't, then we can certainly look at an extended lockout in 2011 as the seminal moment where the tide turned on the ST. LOUIS part of the Rams.
Of course, the NFL lockout doesn't have to last all off-season. It could be done in a day or two if the two sides would decide to each give a bit. All indications are that this probably won't happen, but we can hope.
Because the longer the lockout drags on, the worse off the St. Louis Rams will be.