TAMPA — If the NFL and its players reach an agreement — and not Armageddon — by Friday, what will the new league look like?
There likely will be an 18-game regular season sometime after 2011. Although players cite the risk of injury and shorter careers, it's the easiest way for the NFL to grow the game financially via selling the extra contests to the networks.
"I still feel like it's a bargaining chip," said C Jeff Faine, the Bucs' union rep. "If it is, I'm sure that's something we may go to. If it's something they're stuck on, I think it's a terrible idea. There's nothing good in it except for the owners. But at the end of the day, it is their league and could go to it without our input."
In exchange, rosters will be expanded to provide more jobs. There probably would be two bye weeks and, maybe, tweaks to the injured reserve rules that would allow players to return after a lengthy rehab.
Owners also would have to agree to shorter offseason workout programs and limit contact during training camp and, perhaps, the regular season.
Players also could benefit with the extra revenue going to increased retirement benefits and insurance coverage. Currently, a player gets insurance for five years after his last game.
The new NFL would have some kind of rookie wage scale that would limit signing bonuses and/or guaranteed money. In exchange, players might be allowed to reach a restricted form of free agency quicker than the current three years.
Owners will be able to take more than $1 billion off the top when the revenue ($9.3 billion in 2010) is split but probably substantially less than the $2 billion they seek. The extra money will go toward stadium debts and new stadiums.
And if there is no agreement by Friday? The union will decertify, the owners will lock players out, the dispute goes from negotiation to litigation, games probably will be missed and only the lawyers will be happy.
RAISING THE BAR: Each team strives to build a roster with players who love the game, not those who are in it for fame and fortune.
It's easier said than done, but you have to credit the Bucs, general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris for doing just that.
The Bucs' first two draft classes under Dominik have been full of gym rats, guys who are not only talented but like spending extra time on the field and in the classroom to get better.
"Every draft class is different and has the ability to come in and really change the dynamic inside your building," Dominik said. "So with the 2011 class, I'm really going to hold them to a high standard.
"The previous two classes … have really handled things well, with Roy Miller, E.J. Biggers, Josh (Freeman). Those players have come in and controlled that dynamic and given us a really tight locker room. With them and the guys that have been a part of the team, we have a locker room full of guys that are really passionate about the game. And that fire, I think, stays lit. So my concern is about the new pieces we bring in."
The 2011 class will have big cleats to fill. Just consider the players the Bucs have found at the bottom of the selection process. Biggers, fellow DB Cody Grimm, WR Sammie Stroughter, LB Dekoda Watson and DE-turned-FB Erik Lorig were taken in the seventh round.
Grimm might be the best example. At 6 feet 1, 203 pounds, he's not the biggest — or the fastest — safety in the league. A linebacker at Virginia Tech, he made a seamless transition to safety because of instincts and work ethic.
"Even back in the (voluntary workouts) and again during training camp, you would have thought that he'd played safety in college and not linebacker," Dominik said.
"He was just so comfortable back there. And his awareness of field levels and angles, it's just a special trait of his. He's just got a real good feel for it and an ability to get into the right spots. And that's what accelerated his transition."
Grimm broke his left leg in Week 9 at Baltimore, ending his season. He still has improvement to make in coverage. But at the time of his injury, he already was a force in run support.
"He may not be able to physically get up there and go man-to-man with (Cardinals WR) Larry Fitzgerald, but he does understand leverage points and a quarterback's mechanics," Dominik said. "Cerebrally, he's as solid as there is. And because he's instinctive, he's able to bait things and get into good position and make plays that you wouldn't think he could make."
The Bucs select 20th this year and will not have the luxury of having one of the top picks in each round like the past two drafts. They own seven choices — one per round — but that could change with compensatory picks announced this month.
"It's going to take a lot more planning," Dominik said.
"There's going to be a lot more opportunities to go in different directions this year."