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Lockout will unlock a new universe of cheating


While we were all watching the end of the Packers-Bears game on Sunday, Charley Casserly of CBS was sharing highly pertinent information about the manner in which teams can prepare for the 2011 season.

Though Casserly didn’t say it, the application of common sense to his message quickly leads to an inescapable conclusion. To be best prepared after what many believe will be an inevitable lockout, teams need to be prepared to cheat effectively.

In the strike-shortened seasons of 1982 and 1987, the Redskins (for whom Casserly worked at the time) won the Super Bowl. Casserly explained that coach Joe Gibbs reminded the players that they needed to stay together as a team, and he had them engage in organized practices on their own. Given that these things happened long before the days of cell-phone cameras, the immediacy of both supply and demand of the 24-hour news cycle, and the Internet, it would be foolish to assume that neither the Redskins nor any other teams engaged in workouts that were directly or indirectly supervised by members of the coaching staff.

This time around, Casserly says that one prominent quarterback has been scouting facilities that he and his teammates can use for player-organized practices. Another coach gave his players at their final meeting “very organized practice plans for workouts and passing camps that they can do in the offseason.”

None of that constitutes cheating. Before the lockout, communications between coaches and players are permissible. (That said, Casserly overstated reality a bit by proclaiming that teams can “do anything you want before March 4.” There can be no workouts or practices or anything that otherwise would constitute work.)

After March 4, there can be no contact between players and coaches. Per Casserly, the NFL said that teams will be disciplined “very severely” if violations occur.

But let’s be realistic. Violations will occur. Surely, coaches and key players already have begun securing secret cell phones for the sole purpose of talking to each other about offseason workouts that can’t directly be supervised by the coaches. The team that’s most effective in this regard will be the best prepared to compete for and win the Super Bowl when football resumes.

One of the key components will be the presence of a strong, trusting relationship between the coach and the starting quarterback, who undoubtedly will be relied upon to organize the unorganized practices, and to discreetly report back to the coaching staff regarding progress. In this regard, teams like the Patriots, Jets, Steelers, Ravens, Colts, Chargers, Giants, Packers, Falcons, and Saints likely will have an edge. In other cities, coaches will have to identify other team leaders who can be trusted to organize the practices, to preside over them, and to communicate with the coaching staff on a double-secret basis.

Though, as Casserly also pointed out, plenty of quarterbacks are involved in the labor effort, all quarterbacks are smart enough to know they’ll eventually have to play and compete on the field with other quarterbacks and teams. Their own desire to win could compel them to adopt a dual existence that will entail talking tough about league-union issues while also facilitating a violation of the rules that will apply to the individual teams during the labor battle.

It’s all the more reason for the two sides to work this thing out before things happen that will further expose to the football-following world the reality that plenty of coaches, teams, and players live by the time-honored maxim, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.”