As the NFL and representatives from its players association continue to haggle over negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, the future of players from all 32 teams remains up in the air. Among those players are former University of Toledo athletes Barry Church, Andrew Hawkins, Lance Moore and Stephen Williams.
“This is something we have been prepared for,” said Moore, the New Orleans Saints 2010 Super Bowl-winning receiver. “We have been saving the last two years and just going through the steps to make sure the guys are being taken care of. Most guys have financial advisers to do the right things with their money. For the most part I’m just living day-to-day and not doing anything crazy with my money.”
“These are people’s livelihoods,” said Williams, currently with the Arizona Cardinals. “You have to see both sides. There’s just a lot going on financially with the game itself and the players from the past, present and future. It’s a lot going into a decision like this.”
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Judge Susan Nelson ruled to end the NFL lockout on April 26. Some teams began to turn away players from their facilities despite the ruling and afterwards a court ruling granted the NFL a stay resulting on the lockout being back on.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Dallas Cowboys safety Barry Church. “We work our whole lives getting to this point and for it to be taken away from us is the most frustrating point. The lockout is not only hurting present players but also retired and future players. There is enough money going around that both parties should be able to get this matter resolved.”
Church, who was a four-time All-Mid-American Conference performer at Toledo from 2006-09, was picked up as a priority free agent with a three-year contract by Dallas following the 2010 NFL Draft. He played in 15 games for Dallas last season on defense and special teams and recorded 20 tackles and a forced fumble. Church also led the team with 15 solo tackles in five preseason games.
The Cowboys will bring in new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, so Church and the rest of the defense will have to learn the new system quickly once they are allowed back to work.
“That’s why we have organized team activities and practice sessions and without those it’s going to be hard for all of us to pick up the defense,” Church said. “I believe everything will work out for the best.”
Church entered the NFL along with Williams, who was selected as a priority free agent for Arizona. Williams impressed, finishing second on the team with 11 catches for 187 and a touchdown in the preseason. He earned a starting spot early in the season. He had nine catches for 101 yards in 11 games this year for Arizona, but his production trailed off after he suffered multiple fractures in his back.
“I had the opportunity to start in the beginning of the season until I got hurt, when I fractured a couple bones in my back,” Williams said. “This year I have a better understanding of how everything operates and being a professional. I’m that much more comfortable and I just want to come in to the season full throttle and pick up with what I did last year.”
Williams and Church have also been put in unique situations. As undrafted free agents, both players haven’t received substantial contracts with the NFL and must continue to impress their respective teams to remain in their future plans.
“It’s very hard because being in my situation, any opportunity to ball is key and being locked out isn’t helping at all,” Church said.
If Williams does need help financially, he won’t have far to look. Cardinals star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald publically offered his financial support if it was needed to Williams and others on KTAR radio in Phoenix saying, “For my young guys [like] Stephen Williams, Max Hall, Isaiah Williams, all the guys that are on my team they know if they need anything all they gotta do is pick up the phone and I’m going to be there for them and support them any way I can.” The gesture was not lost on Williams.
“Larry is that type of dude; he always looks after everybody,” Williams said. “The last game of the season he told us that, so it wasn’t a surprise that he said that. He told us months ago that if we ever needed help in the offseason just to let him know and he would look out for us. That’s who he is.
“I have been smart about my situation by saving money knowing that there is a chance we are going to a lockout. I have just been being smart by not making crazy purchases.”
Meanwhile, Hawkins and Moore, who were teammates in 2004 in Toledo, have taken a wait-and-see approach to the negotiations.
“As a player if you get into the [politics] you will want to cut your own head off,” said Hawkins, the Rams receiver who is mostly known for finishing second on Michael Irvin’s reality show “4th and Long,” which awarded a training camp spot in Dallas to the winner. “It’s kind of in our best interest to let the people in charge take care of it. We watch it because it concerns us so much being our livelihood, but at the same time we try not to get too involved and caught up into everything.”
“Everybody has their own opinion of what is going on but for the most part no single player can dictate what is going to happen,” Moore said. “I just wait and listen to what happens.”
To prepare for the start of a possible 2011 season, Hawkins and Moore have teamed with Moore’s brother and former UT receiver Nick Moore of the CFL’s BC Lions as well as Cleveland Browns defensive back DeAngelo Smith to train together.
“We are in the gym early in the morning and lift for about three hours,” Moore said. “This isn’t something that we won’t be prepared for what goes on. Guys are working out and getting their bodies together and in shape. When everything happens we will be ready.”
Williams has participated in workouts in Arizona, as NFL players have come to train.
The negotiations have even affected other UT players still in college. Sixth-year cornerback Desmond Marrow was projected by the NFL to be selected in as high as the fifth round in the 2011 NFL Draft, but chose to remain in school in part because of the lockout.
“The lockout played a part in my decision just for the simple fact that I didn’t know if there was going to be a season,” Marrow said.
Although most expect there to be a 2011 season, even if it is shortened, Marrow knows that there is no guarantee that a lockout won’t happen next year as well.
“There’s a little concern but it’s nothing I can control so I don’t worry too much about it,” Marrow said. “I’m focused on this college season I have to play and helping the Rockets win this year.”