As a 13-year NFL veteran who has earned his millions, linebacker Takeo Spikes, the 49ers player representative, has acknowledged the obvious: He's in a better financial position than many of his teammates to withstand a lengthy work stoppage.
But as he discussed the NFL's tenuous labor situation in late December, Spikes, 34, said the potential loss of the 2011 season came at a higher price for players in his age bracket.
"Guys in my area, 10-11-12-13 years, you can't afford to miss a year of football," Spikes said. "You can't because it's bad enough they want to label you (as old) anyway, so I got just as much to lose, I think, just as much as a young player. At least, they miss a year, you can talk it up and say, &‘Aw, he's young, we can knock the rust off him.' With us, it boils down, to, &‘Oh, this guy, he's in his later years.'"
The reverberations from the decertification of the NFL players' union on Friday will likely be far-reaching. A protracted court battle could threaten the 2011 season, result in lost jobs for countless people on the NFL periphery such as game-day employees and torpedo the bottom line of businesses that rely on the revenue generated from Sundays in the fall.
Purely from a players' perspective, though, the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987 could acutely affect players on opposite ends of the spectrum: Those on their way out and those preparing to enter the league
As Spikes noted, veterans can ill-afford a lost season, which could potentially spell the end of their careers.
And then there's the case of those soon-to-be draftees whose official entry into the NFL will be delayed indefinitely. The three-day NFL Draft will still be held beginning on April 28, but drafted rookies won't be able to sign with their teams until there is a new collective bargaining agreement. In addition, college players who aren't drafted won't be able to sign free-agent contracts until a deal is struck.
On Friday morning, hours before the decertification of the players' union, Niners coach Jim Harbaugh was in Fort Worth, Texas, to watch TCU quarterback Andy Dalton at his pro day. Harbaugh's presence fueled speculation that San Francisco could have a keen interest in Dalton, considered a second-round draft prospect.
But what if the Niners did draft Dalton? If a work stoppage extends deep into the summer, could a rookie quarterback possibly play in 2011 without the benefit of offseason workouts or a full training camp? Dalton addressed the scenario at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month, "If we can't get into camp, we can't get a playbook and obviously that hurts us," he said.
Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, viewed as a later-round prospect, conceded the NFL's cloudy future was a source of tension for its next wave of employees.