Rookies caught up in NFL labor mess

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INDIANAPOLIS --- Florida defensive back Ahmad Black would prefer to focus on football.

Instead, he's getting a crash course in labor negotiations, lockout rules, even the possible implementation of a rookie wage scale.

These new obstacles are threatening to make the transition from college football to the NFL more complicated than usual, even if the players don't want to admit it.

"Hey, it's better than doing it for free," Black said Sunday at the NFL's scouting combine. "I'm going to get a little bit of something (in a contract)."

Black, like most of the 329 draft prospects in Indianapolis this weekend, is trying to stay away from the discussion that has overshadowed one of the league's biggest off-season events.

Everyone from owners to coaches to agents have been briefed about negotiations that could avert the looming lockout, which could begin Friday.

And the potential draft picks find themselves caught in the middle.

If the expected lockout begins, teams will be prohibited from communicating with veterans or negotiating player contracts. Free agency will be put on hold and teams cannot cut players from their current rosters.

Rookies, however, will still have their regularly scheduled pro days, still be able to interview with team officials and still get picked in April's draft.

That's when the landscape changes for the rookies.

They will not be able to negotiate deals until a new CBA is in place, and, perhaps more importantly, will not be allowed to get playbooks, go through the usual minicamps or the team's off-season workouts.

Some analysts suggest it's enough to make this a lost draft class. NFL officials disagree.

"It's difficult being a rookie as it is," Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli said. "I think it's really up to the individual. They're all at different points, but they're going to have to develop. If it's going to be an issue, though, it's going to be an issue for everybody."

That's not necessarily what the players want to hear.

"I don't think it would set us back," Miami cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke said. "It would make us hungrier when we get into camp. It will probably cut down all the long contracts and just get guys right into camp."


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