BALTIMORE (AP) — On a night in which 32 NFL players were honored for their accomplishments last season, several of those stars wondered aloud whether they would be back in uniform in 2011.
The players assembled Tuesday for the Ed Block Courage Awards, a ceremony held in a ballroom less than 40 miles from the site of NFL labor negotiations in the nation’s capital.
So naturally, the talk in the lobby drifted toward the question of whether NFL owners and the league’s union could reach an agreement in time to avoid a delay — or cancellation — of the 2011 season.
“I don’t think either side wants no football. That’s ridiculous,” said Indianapolis Colts standout Dwight Freeney, a five-time Pro Bowl defensive end. “I think they both understand that. Hopefully we can come to some kind of middle ground somewhere, somehow. We’ll be playing football in 2011.”
The sooner Freeney gets the go-ahead, the better.
“You want them to hurry up and get it over with, get this thing done so you can prepare for next year,” he said. “I think a lot of guys understand this may drag on a little longer, but we have to prepare as if we’re going to play in 2011.”
The owners and players are discussing issues that are quite serious, but when it comes right down to it, it’s only football. At least that’s the way Kansas City Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt sees it.
“Obviously, we’re fighting over millions of dollars. But there are people in this world that fight over water and food and necessities like that,” Colquitt said. “If we can look at it like that, I’m sure they can come to an agreement and we can keep on playing.”
Colquitt realizes nothing is certain, even though both sides will lose if an agreement isn’t reached.
“We have a lot of players reps that are in Washington right now doing their due diligence and being at the meetings and trying to make this thing work,” he said. “As a player, I’m concerned about not working. We have a great product, and I just urge them to think wisely what they’re doing.”
Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson was optimistic about the talks. But if an agreement isn’t reached, at least he has enough money to see him through.
“I think it will work itself out. There’s too much to be lost,” he said. “Fortunately, I’ve done a great job during my career of being in good position to not have to worry about things like that.”
Benson is in his seventh year. Players with less experience than he almost certainly have less money, and less insight about the impact a work stoppage could have.
“Every football player should prepare not just for a lockout, but life after football. I did prepare,” said Washington Redskins defensive lineman Ma’ake Kemoeatu. “If I was to be done playing football today, I would be set for the rest of my life. But these young kids, the rookies, haven’t really learned how to save and get ready for the future.”
If all goes well, the players won’t have to worry about being unemployed in 2011.
“I think both sides will get it worked out. I don’t think one side is going to get everything they want, so I hope they can find that fine line where everybody’s happy and we can continue to play football for the fans,” Atlanta Falcons cornerback Brian Williams said.
Donte’ Stallworth, the Baltimore Ravens’ representative, was ill in Florida and could not attend. Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson, who stepped in to take his place, said this about the negotiations: “We’re talking, and that’s the most important thing. Anytime you have a disagreement within your family, when you talk it out, things get smoothed over. Hopefully that’s what is going to happen with us.”
The Ed Block Courage Foundation places an emphasis on courage, compassion, commitment, community and character. Each team selects one player based on these qualifications.
In many cases, an Ed Block Award winner has overcome adversity to excel in the NFL. Kemoeatu, for instance, rebounded from a torn Achilles’ tendon to play in 14 games in 2010.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)