The one thing both Lions’ players and managers agree upon is that, one way or another, football will be played in 2011.
“What is most important right now is getting ready to play football in 2011,” said team president Tom Lewand March 12, hours after the league imposed a lockout. “Everything we’ve done is geared toward that; with the way we’re preparing for free agency, which isn’t taking place right now, to preparing for the draft, which will take place.
“All of our preparations continue and nothing that’s happened in the last couple of weeks or the last couple of days has changed that focus. Our hope and expectation is that we will be playing football in 2011.”
Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, the team’s player rep, is so certain that there will be a season, he’s organized team workouts at a local health club.
“It’s all that we know as players and all that owners know and it’s what the fans want, and that’s the most important thing,” Vanden Bosch said. “At the end of the day, I’ve got to provide for my family and the owners got to provide for their families, but we’re entertainers and we do it for the fans. It would be unfortunate to let fans down because they love the sport as much as we do.”
That said, Vanden Bosch still supported the union’s decision to decertify.
“At this point, there’s a lot of players who are potential free agents, and they’re still kind of trying to figure out what’s next for them,” Vanden Bosch said. “There’s guys coming out of college that are draft picks — they know the draft is coming up but they’re not sure what’s next in the process after that. And guys like me who are geared up for what would normally be the start of an offseason program, which is kind of in limbo right now, waiting for somebody to tell us what we can, what we can’t do and what’s expected of us.
“It’s going to be decisions that are made for us, and a lot of things are just going to be decided in court, and we’re just going to have to wait for it.”
Lewand said the coaching staff has completed all the prep work for free agency, which normally would have already been under way.
“We are ready to go on free agency,” he said. “We have been geared toward planning for various contingencies and we are ready to see how it is impacted by rule changes or new policies.”
Lewand reiterated what general manager Martin Mayhew had said during the NFL combine, the team will be able to monitor the rehabilitation progress of its injured players.
“We have our players set up in rehabilitation facilities around the country and we have lines of communication open with those facilities where we can monitor their rehabilitation progress,” he said.
Teams cannot talk directly to the players, however. Among the Lions’ players coming off surgeries are quarterback Matthew Stafford (shoulder), linebacker DeAndre Levy (groin), cornerback Chris Houston (shoulder), safety Louis Delmas (groin), kicker Jason Hanson (knee), defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (shoulder) and right tackle Gosder Cherilus (knee).
Lewand also said that there would no staff layoffs, furloughs or pay cuts at least until after the draft.
As for the impact the lockout might have on season-ticket sales, Lewand said that both season-ticket renewals and new season-ticket sales were up. He said letters had gone out, both electronically and paper mail, to season-ticket holders on Saturday, informing them that there would be refunds with interest should games be cancelled.
“We have a good relationship with our season-ticket base,” Lewand said. “We will continue to maintain direct communication through our web site and emails. But the bottom line is, they want us to play football. They aren’t interested in hearing about what side has what, or in the posturing that’s happening at the negotiating table or in the court room. They are interested in watching Lions football.
“We understand that. We get it. And that’s what we are focusing on, as well. We want to play football and build on our last four games of last season and build on things we’ve been doing as an organization the last two years.”
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