Most years, at least a few former Kansas University football players would have been scooped up by NFL teams by now.
While the departed Jayhawks aren’t always drafted into the professional ranks, many often have been given an opportunity to make a roster by signing as free agents in the hours following the draft.
That time has come and gone. The three-day NFL Draft ended April 30, and, because NFL players have been locked out by the owners, teams are not able to sign free agents, trade players, deal with contracts or conduct any football-related business. In short, as it stands right now, it’s as if there is no NFL.
Cornerback Chris Harris held out hope he would be drafted and felt almost certain he would get a shot via free agency. Harris remains in limbo, but the four-year starter in the Jayhawks’ secondary isn’t sweating it too much.
“I haven’t really been worrying about it because we’re rookies,” Harris said. “And rookies don’t get their contracts until the season starts anyway. You still gotta get through camp and make the team.”
Of course, in order for that to be a possibility, there has to be a camp in the first place. With the on-again, off-again status of the league’s latest labor dispute, there’s no telling when that time will come. Had this been a normal year, the NFL’s newest crop of players would be preparing to report to rookie camps this weekend. Instead, they’re left wondering when they’ll get their shot and if there will be a 2011 season.
“The main way it affects us is we usually have a rookie mini-camp, and while the lockout’s still going on we won’t have that,” Harris said. “But all the teams I’ve talked to have been telling me to be ready to go for rookie camp. It sounds like they’re planning on having it at some point.”
Harris and his 2010 teammates aren’t the only former Jayhawks impacted by the lockout. Last year, Dezmon Briscoe (Cincinnati), Kerry Meier (Atlanta) and Darrell Stuckey (San Diego) all were drafted into the NFL. They should be preparing for their second year in the league. Instead, they’ve been forced to work out on their own while awaiting the outcome. All three were back in Lawrence last week and took time to discuss the league’s status.
“Usually a rookie makes his biggest jump in the offseason between his first year and his second year,” said Stuckey, a safety with the Chargers. “That first year, you finally get the feel for the game, you understand what’s demanded of you and what they really want and what you need to do to be out there. And when you get to the offseason, you’re able to work on (those) things and really get the grasp of what the defense’s or the offense’s scheme was and how you fit into it. So I think that’s the only downfall to this offseason, but I’m out there working hard. I’m ready to go back, and whenever we get a chance to get back out there with our coaches I’m going to do whatever’s needed of me next year.”
Briscoe, a wide receiver who now plays for Tampa Bay, said a few of his teammates had organized practices during the work stoppage. Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman, a former Kansas State QB, most often has been the ringleader of such workouts, an act that impressed Briscoe.
“He’s an incredible guy,” Briscoe said of Freeman. “He’s really been working hard with us as far as finding a place where we can work out since we can’t be at the facility. We actually had a workout at (the University of) South Florida. They opened their facilities to us with open arms, and we appreciated it and just got some work done.”
Mike Rivera, a 2009 KU graduate, is in a different situation. Unlike Harris or the trio of players drafted in 2010, Rivera entered the NFL as a free agent. In 2009, he was on Tennessee’s practice squad. He split his time between Green Bay and Miami last season. This year, Rivera hopes to earn a spot on the Dolphins’ 53-man roster, and every day the lockout continues becomes a lost opportunity for him.
“It’s kind of a bad deal because you don’t get to have an offseason with the team right now,” he said. “It makes it difficult because that’s when you learn a lot. You get to work out with the team and get to know the team and all that stuff.”
Despite the bad break, Rivera has kept a positive attitude and taken advantage of the opportunity to spend time with family and work out at KU with friends and former teammates.
“As far as how long it’s gonna be, I keep reading the stuff in the papers and seeing the stuff on the news, and they say it’s gonna keep getting extended, so I think it’s gonna be awhile,” Rivera said. “Pretty much what you see on the news is pretty accurate. Really, for me, it comes down to how I do in training camp and in the preseason, so, not much changes even though the lockout’s happening.”
Though each of the former Jayhawks is affected in different ways, all agree on one thing.
“I hope they can get everything worked out soon so we can all get back to our jobs and start getting some work done,” Meier said.