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Coaches, GMs balance immediate vs. long-term future

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INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL Scouting Combine is about the league's future prospects, but the majority of my conversations with coaches, general managers and scouts at the annual event were more about the league's immediate future.

The looming labor crisis that could lead to a work stoppage is front and center on the minds of those who work for teams. People are seriously scared of the possibility of lost wages -- and lost jobs -- which teams have already alerted their employees would come if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached by 11:59 p.m., Thursday.

One head coach told me that his team's policy is to cut coaches' and other staffers' salaries by 75 percent, starting March 4.That's including the head coach himself. Another assistant coach told me that he and the coaches on his team's staff will have their salaries cut by 50 percent. Each said their own teams would pay them retroactively, but the likelihood of them recouping all of the deducted wages is unlikely.

Other teams have set up deadlines for when furloughs, wage reductions and job losses would be triggered -- but some teams won't wait.

Some of the coaches said they hope, that if such losses occur, they'd be able to help other co-workers who have it worse off than them, especially lower-level personnel who don't get paid much. The longer a work stoppage, the less chance of those able to help now being able to do that later.

The most common refrain from the fearful coaches is that they understand the 50-to-75 percent wage reductions, but "I'm still going to be at work every day getting paid for only 50 percent of my time."

There was little to no optimism that a deal would get worked out by the deadline, and most coaches fret that a work stoppage will extend for months, possibly into the preseason or longer. The NFL and NFLPA resumed negotiations Tuesday and said they'll continue to talk with the deadline staring them in the face, which provides about the only bit of hope a lot of people are holding on to.

On a side note, there was absolutely no buzz about free agency, which typically starts at 12:01 a.m. at the beginning of the new league year (would be March 4 if things were operating as normal). General managers and coaches said they are operating as if there will be free agency, but they have contingency plans in place. Nobody expects free agency to begin any time soon, likely not until after the April draft.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89

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