While much of the talk about the NFL lockout has been about players staying in shape, free agency, missed OTA's, and how behind rookies will be because of not being able to work with the teams that drafted, that's not the real damaging thing. There is a group however, who might actually be irreparably damaged by the NFL lockout. One group doesn't have a virtual guarantee of money and a roster spot waiting for them when the season opens.
The undrafted free agents.
I was able to get a hold of Kentucky Wildcats defensive lineman Ricky Lumpkin. Lumpkin is a versatile, athletic defensive lineman that many teams will look to scoop up once free agency opens. Most of the time, undrafted free agents are able to make some cash during mini-camp and organized team activities. They generally sign contracts early on and get a decent signing bonus, which is how teams coerce them to sign over others. It's not much, but it's enough for the player to live on while they're dedicating their time to making the football team.
"This lockout has left myself and a lot of guys like me in a very unusual situation this season," Lumpkin told me over e-mail. "I got a job this summer, because to me it was something my parents taught me when I was younger. They taught me to handle my business, never make excuses, and to never sit around and wait for a job or an opportunity. Make most of what you have at any given time. Even though I knew my agent could've taken care of me like he has a lot of the other guys he works with, I just did not feel like bothering him about it, because I know I can make something on my own," Lumpkin continued.
A lot of rookies, especially drafted players, are fronted money by their agents because there is a guarantee of money to come back to them when they sign contracts. For undrafted rookies, it's no guarantee. They're essentially taking a loan. It says something about Lumpkin that he went out and got a job to pay his way, even though he knew his agent would take care of him and working full-time could possibly hurt his chances when camps open. What makes it tough is staying in NFL shape and being ready for when the league year does open, while working a full-time job. Staying in NFL shape is a full-time job in itself, especially for a guy who's simply just trying to make a roster and doesn't know what it takes to be in NFL shape, like the veterans.
"Working out is difficult with a work schedule, but its just another challenge in life," Lumpkin wrote. "I do a mix of workouts. I lift, but I run more than I lift. I get out on the field and run gassers, do some bag work ,and mix in change of direction. When I work out I try to work with some of my former teammates who play in the NFL like Jeremy Jarmon who is a defensive lineman with the Washington Redskins. Working with him is a blessing because he also teaches me things I need to know about entering into camp."
It's great Lumpkin has that benefit, so he knows what to look for when he does get into an NFL camp. Most undrafted free agents don't have that luxury, however. Lumpkin's also able to do a lot of these workouts because he's got access to what's necessary. He got a job at the University of Kentucky at the Center for Academic Tutorial Services, the help other UK student athletes.
"I felt like I went to college for a reason which was to prepare me for life and different situations," said Lumpkin. "This is one of those situations. I was taught to handle my business and get the job done. I can't complain about the lockout and won't complain. So to help pass time and to get my future ready for whenever I'm done playing football I started working at my Alma Mater at C.A.T.S (Center for Academic Tutorial Services). I started working here because I want to help the student athletes out at UK just like I received help my past five years at the University. This is a passion of mine to help people out to help people reach goals the same way I got help to reach my goals in college."
As I mentioned previously, the oft-forgotten victims of the NFL lockout are the guys who make up the backbone for a lot of NFL rosters. On the Jacksonville Jaguars, we've seen what you can pull from that pool of talent. With the lockout however, it's going to push teams more towards keeping veteran players who know what they're doing over taking a shot on an undrafted rookie who shows promise, simply because the veteran will be better acclimated. The undrafted guys are the real victims of the 2011 NFL lockout, because it's very likely a lot of guys won't make the cut on rosters simply because of the time they missed, which is real. A lot of UDFA's make their impressions early on in mini-camp and OTA's while working with position coaches. As it stands right now, they'll just be thrown into the fire. Teams will be in a rush to get things together and learn schemes. In a normal off-season, the UDFA's can get more personal work with coaches, more face time. As it stands now, that will be limited as camp begins.
"When it is all said and done I am ready to sign and see what happens, but either way it goes I have no regrets. I am just like any other college player who wants a shot in the NFL," Lumpkin wrote. "It all comes down to what you do with it. Just like my parents taught me, I got to handle my business, which when it comes is to make a team."