MANKATO -- Steve Hutchinson is a Pro Bowl guard for the Vikings on the field. Off the field, he plays an important role for his teammates as the Vikings' player representative.
With no labor agreement in place past this season and things seemingly at a standstill, Hutchinson is more than willing to say he is "absolutely" concerned about a work stoppage in 2011.
"The owners fully intend to lock us out," Hutchinson said Friday morning after the Vikings completed practice. "That’s why they negotiated a TV contract that would pay them with the lockout happening [in 2011]. They fully wanted this to happen because they made sure they were going to be compensated if in fact there was no season played.”
The reality of the situation is the owners and players seem to be nowhere near an agreement. The Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire next March, meaning that the best case scenario might be a short-term lockout that only impacts the offseason.
But Hutchinson said players are very aware of the seriousness of the situation.
"I think a lot of guys around the league now are mentally preparing for that case," Hutchinson said. "We’ve done some things as a union to try to [get ready]. We’ve withheld dues, we’ve withheld royalty checks to guys to put it in an escrow account where if that day does come, where guys are not getting checks next September, that we can pay out their own money in weekly or monthly portions so that they can live life, make rent payments, stuff like that. So guys are keen to the fact that this is a very serious things."
Hutchinson said adding regular-season games isn't something players are opposed to "if it's gone about in the right way."
“There’s going to have to be compensation for two extra games," he said. "That’s obviously one of the things on the table with the CBA talks. They are going to have to figure something out."
Asked how he might go about handling things if the NFL played 18 regular-season games, Hutchinson said there almost would need to be another bye week put in. That would make it a 20-week season for 18 games. "There’s probably a number of things that have got to be looked at," he explained. "It’s not as simple as, ‘We’ll just cut out two preseason games because nobody liked that and we’ll add two regular-season games and nobody will notice.'”
Obviously, if there is a work stoppage, many are going to be wonder how such a successful and popular product can end up in that situation. Hutchinson realizes this and points to what happened with other sports, and even in the NFL, as an example of the damage that can be done.
“You’d think the people at the top [in the NFL] would realize what lockouts and strikes have done to basketball, baseball and hockey over the last two decades, let alone what it did to the NFL with the work stoppage in the late ’80s," he said. "You’ve got something going on here that you’re on the brink of taking international and being successful at. You don’t want to jeopardize anything with the general public and the fans hearing us squabble about money.”