NFL faces uncertain offseason as labor strife complicates trades, free agency

"We have to be prepared for free agency. ... If someone's going to change the rules, I'm sure I'll get an e-mail, and then we'll adjust," Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen said. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 30, 2011; 12:38 AM

As the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for next Sunday's Super Bowl, the offseason has already begun for 30 other NFL teams. That means evaluating rosters, scouring the free agent and trade market, and preparing for the draft.

But this year is far more complicated than usual, with the possibility of labor strife in the coming months threatening to turn the normally orderly NFL offseason calendar into chaos.

The uncertainty over a new collective bargaining agreement between team owners and the players' union looms over the planning of every club, none more so than the Washington Redskins, who were expected to be among the most active NFL teams in free agency and the trade market because of their numerous and disparate needs.

"It's a question that I think everybody's asking themselves in the NFL," Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said earlier this month. "With the new CBA, exactly what direction are you going to go? I can't tell you for sure right now."

Players and union officials have said they expect the owners to lock them out, but no one really knows for sure. One thing is certain: Even if the current collective bargaining agreement expires March 4, there will be a draft in April.

Beyond that, how this offseason will unfold on the player-acquisition market is unknown - leaving teams to prepare to build their rosters under old rules and previous timetables, knowing that a work stoppage could put everything on hold and a new agreement could change those rules.

"We have to be prepared for free agency," Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen said. "We have to be prepared for the end of the league year on March 4, and that's what we're working to. If someone's going to change the rules, I'm sure I'll get an e-mail, and then we'll adjust."

Free agency usually would begin in March. But it's not clear what the rules for free agency will be this time. If the sport shuts down because of a lockout, there won't be a free agent market for the foreseeable future.

But until a lockout is certain, front office staffs and coaches are, to a certain extent, guessing what will happen on time, what will be delayed, and when they might be able to assemble a final list of players to bring to training camp.

"What we're doing is just saying we're going to do it as business as usual," Indianapolis Colts President Bill Polian said. "And then, what adjustments we might have to make on the back end will take care of themselves. . . . Once we know what the landscape is, then we go from there."

Redskins hampered?

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