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Possibility of holdouts could further stunt growth of rookies

One of the byproducts of the NFL's work stoppage has been additional challenges for rookies, who have no income or coaches to help ease them into the league. There is also the matter of signing contracts, which looms as a major issue once the lockout reaches its conclusion.

"If we go back to a system like we've had, there could definitely be holdouts," a general manager said.

That, in turn, could further dampen projections of No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton (Panthers) or Tennessee's Jake Locker (No. 8) or other key prospects expected to contribute from Day One. Although teams like Carolina, Minnesota, Tennessee and Cincinnati planned to add a veteran through trades or free agency to support their rookie quarterbacks, the importance of signing an experienced QB would be ratcheted up significantly if there are holdouts.

If Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green isn't signed early, that might improve the odds that Chad Ochocinco returns. Tackle Tyron Smith could leave Dallas in a pinch -- the Cowboys would owe veteran right tackle Marc Colombo a $2.6 million roster bonus on the 15th day of the league year and a base salary of $2 million if he makes the final roster -- if his contract talks stall.

What type of system emerges with a new labor agreement will determine the probability of possible holdouts. Team officials and agents were more inclined to think there will be some type of rookie wage scale that could come in exchange for more money being afforded veteran players and a return to unrestricted free agency after four seasons.

The players don't seem overly reluctant to compromise on the owners' wishes to reel in the massive guaranteed bonuses of rookie players, mainly those at the top end of the draft. Last season's No. 1 overall pick, Sam Bradford, was guaranteed $50 million -- more than many established players will make in their careers.

If a rookie system is implemented, then a slotting system could be formed and most of the negotiating and guesswork would be taken out of the process and rookies -- most notably the highly-paid top 10 draftees -- could be signed almost immediately.

"There might be a few loopholes with a system like that, but most of the negotiating would be taken out of contract talks," an agent for a top 10 draft pick said.

"If that type of deal is in place, it could be pretty simplistic," an NFC general manager said.

No one knows -- at least not those who work for the owners nor the agents who represent the players. One agent agreed with the general manager that if there is no rookie wage scale, contract talks could take weeks and keep players away from the coaching they've already missed.

Two general managers said their teams were eager to get deals done and assumed that agents were as well -- and not just with drafted rookies. One GM said that once football is back in business, the flurry to sign undrafted rookies is going to be intense and could be over as quickly as an hour or two for most teams.

One team has planned to enlist more people from its personnel department than usual to work the phones to acquire undrafted rookies so higher-ranking front office people can work on signing or arranging visits for veteran free agents. Signing draft picks would come after those priorities were exhausted, the GM said.

GMs and their coaches and personnel staffs feel like they're prepared for any and every situation.

"We've gone through what seems like thousands of scenarios," Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman said, echoing remarks made by coaches and GMs throughout the NFL. "If there's a cap, no cap, pretty much whatever. We've been prepared for most of these scenarios for months."

Players, especially veterans, likely would be eager to get into the building as soon as possible since so many of them have workout bonuses, one GM said. Depending on when a deal gets done, that GM surmised that most of the players who have those bonuses would be in position to earn them.

Teams also want players to report as soon as possible so they can get physicals on players. Teams want to find out what type of shape players are in but also determine if any of them sustained new injuries during the offseason, several GMs said. Teams have not been able to have contact with players during the lockout, so if someone got hurt, teams could be in the dark. Gauging the status of players with prior injuries also has teams anxious.

"It will be a lot different than we've dealt with before," Spielman said. "Stuff we've done in a six-month period will be done in a week."

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