The longer the NFL’s lockout lasts, the more the Browns will need to scratch and claw to dig themselves out of a proverbial hole.
Although NFL owners, including Browns owner Randy Lerner, approved a proposed collective bargaining agreement Thursday night at an Atlanta-area hotel, the players reportedly have yet to vote on a deal. In other words, the lockout is still alive, meaning new Browns coach Pat Shurmur and his assistants are still prohibited from communicating with their players.
If a deal is finalized in time, players could begin to surface at team training facilities on Saturday for voluntary training and classroom instruction, the league announced. The new league year and training camps for all teams would begin Wednesday, pending approval of the terms by the NFL Players Association.
The Browns know they have plenty of work to do. They’re adopting a West Coast offense and a 4-3 defense, but the labor dispute has robbed them of valuable time that they could have used to install those systems.
“We have a big learning curve,” Browns tight end Benjamin Watson said Thursday morning after hosting a youth football clinic at Memorial Junior High School in South Euclid. “We’ve got a lot that we have to overcome just as an offense and even as a defense. We’ve got a whole new coaching staff, so the sooner we get back to it, the better as far as that goes.”
In a phone interview Thursday evening, Browns wide receiver Jordan Norwood said he hopes to return to work soon. But Norwood also said negotiating a new deal is a delicate process.
“We’re eager to play,” Norwood said. “There’s no doubt about that. I mean for once you’re hearing guys saying they’re eager to go to training camp. So for sure the players are eager to play and itching to play.
“But at the same time, I understand that there’s things that need to be done that take time and that take doing them the right way first so it doesn’t have a long-lasting negative effect on players and player-owner relationships. So that business needs to be handled correctly the first time and correctly no matter how long it takes to preserve that relationship between players and owners.”
Watson said this offseason has been bizarre. He’ll be relieved when everything is settled.
“We’ve been away from organized football for six months now, and for most of us, we haven’t been away from organized football for that long since before we started playing,” Watson said. “Even in high school, you had spring practice, so this has been the longest break that any of us has had.
“So the first few days when we actually get back to playing, it’ll be kind of weird. But I think we’ll get acclimated very quickly. This is our job. This is what we do. This is what we want to be doing. Again with the whole lockout and the way it’s gone with the litigation, this is just American business. That’s all it is, and it’ll resolve itself.”
The sooner, the better for Shurmur and Co. Their players have a lot to learn.
Watson concedes it won’t be easy to play catch up. Nevertheless, he’s optimistic.
“It’s definitely going to be tough,” Watson said. “But it’s all about being able to execute during the game. I’m confident that no matter how much time we have, we’re gonna have enough material down to execute in a game. It just comes down to execution. Once you get out there on the field, it’s you against the other team.
“Everybody is kind of gonna be in the same boat as far as rushing [to figure things out during the preseason]. Yes, we have a lot more to learn. But once we get [back to work], as long as we’re concentrating, as long as we’re getting it done, we’ve just gotta do it on Sundays.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj.