Air Force lieutenant's NFL hopes in limbo
The lack of free agency in this bizarre NFL offseason has left 2011 draft picks unsigned and many would-be players stranded.
Although several teams appeared to draft strictly for need in April’s draft, some would say many might have reached on a prospect because front offices didn’t know whether they would be able to sign a potential free agent.
Two quarterbacks who were slated to go in the second round, Jake Locker (Tennessee Titans, eighth overall) and Christian Ponder (Minnesota Vikings, 12th overall), heard their names called in the top 15 because of the potential uncertainty at their position.
Veteran free agents are far from the only ones hurt in the fight on how to split about $9 billion between owners and players.
Spencer Armstrong, a second lieutenant at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, has high hopes of making an NFL roster this season. The Canadian-born wide receiver starred at the Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs and caught the attention of some professional scouts.
After graduating from the academy, Armstrong was contacted by an agent and later picked by the Calgary Stampeders in the fourth round of the Canadian Football League draft.
Armstrong, 24, has a decision to make soon — play in the CFL or wait out the ongoing NFL work stoppage and hope for an opportunity to realize his ultimate dream. But, first, he would need to be granted a military release from the Secretary of the Air Force.
At one time, that process used to be a long shot. But the military has relaxed the requirement in recent years.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Chad Hall, Armstrong’s former teammate at the academy, was granted a release after signing a three-year contract last March and scored his first touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in January.
"Getting the release seemed like a monumental task, but after I discussed it with the Secretary of the Air Force, it worked out," Hall said.
Armstrong had been in discussions with NFL personnel to work out for a roster spot on an NFC South team once the labor battle is solved.
“It’s just hard sitting out the game two years, and now it is even more difficult because this is the first year I could pursue things and I can’t contact anyone to get workouts with teams in,” Armstrong said.
Philippi Sports Institute in Las Vegas is where Armstrong and other Air Force Academy NFL hopefuls had trained for his pro day, which was scheduled in March at San Diego State University. But with the lockout in place, Armstrong — he cannot be classified as an NFL rookie because he is two years removed from his college playing career — was unable to attend the workout in front of league personnel.
"The lockout came right before our scheduled pro day with SDSU, so when we heard the news that we were no longer going to be able to participate — I'm not gonna lie — we scrambled a bit," Armstrong said.
After months of specific strength and speed training he wasn't going to let his hard work go to waste.
"We called our agents to see if there was anything they could do,” Armstrong said. “Finally we just came to the decision that we had to get something out there, so we decided to film our own workouts with the idea that teams would be able to view the tape after the lockout."
Armstrong posted numbers that rivaled some first-round draftees, running in the 4.4-second range in the 40-yard dash and showcasing his terrific lower body explosion, turning in a 10-foot, 6-inch broad jump — comparable numbers to those posted by No. 4 overall draft pick A.J. Green at the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
"I know I can hang with the best, I'm just waiting on my shot," Armstrong said.
Not only are newly drafted players anticipating a return to a typical NFL offseason, but undrafted free agents and potential prospects — Armstrong among them — are hoping their opportunity to break into the league isn’t locked out, as well.