Dick Harmon: Labor strife puts local NFL hopefuls on hold for now

Published: Friday, May 13 2011 9:26 p.m. MDT

Locked out.

Former BYU offensive lineman Jason Speredon was supposed to make his first mini-camp this week after signing as an undrafted free agent.

Fahu Tahi is supposed to be in training camp for the Minnesota Vikings in the coming weeks.

Tahi, a six-year veteran, is expected to resume his role as a devastating blocker in the Viking backfield — if there is a season.

But that is all up in the air today as the labor dispute lingers on.

No contact from NFL teams, no practices. And no paychecks.

NFL players, and potential league rookies, are looking at a summer of barbecues, hanging out with family and friends and working out on their own. Some might get real jobs to keep up with bills, mortgages and car payments.

Some players are millionaires but their money is tied up in houses, boats, cars and other investments that demand to be fed money with a steady cash flow.

I asked Tahi if the lockout stretches out, will we see him at a freeway off ramp holding a cardboard sign.

He laughed. Those who will really suffer are undrafted free agents who were planning on getting tryout opportunities.

The whole dynamic of making an NFL roster has changed this year. Everything will be squeezed and shortchanged if the lockout goes on for months.

Speredon had nine NFL teams call him the week of the NFL draft and ask for his phone numbers and location during the draft. A judge had ruled in favor of the players, then another judge overturned the ruling. Speredon never got a phone call because NFL team operations and deals are suspended. He's in limbo.

Even those who were drafted can't start anything with their new careers.

"I believe there will be football this year," said Speredon, who is in the same boat as teammates Andrew Rich and Vic So'oto. They join Utes Matt Asiata, Christian Cox, Zane Taylor, Shaky Smithson and Eddie Wide, along with Utah State's Diondre Borel, as NFL hopefuls. None of these guys were drafted.

They can't get to the business of football and see where they stand.

"NFL teams go through the entire playbook about three times with players in the offseason," said Speredon. "The longer the lockout, the less time rookies and even veterans have to go over that playbook and get things down.

"It'll make it hard for rookies who were drafted to get up to speed with their team so they can have an impact.

"It makes it even tougher for free agents. It isn't a good situation for about 400 players who are looking to make a team."

In the meantime, it's tire kicking time.

Speredon and Tahi have agreed to help with a giant fundraiser on Monday at Cottonwood High School.

"It's a worthwhile thing to help those victims in Japan, people who have lost their homes and family members," Tahi said. "If I can do anything to make their lives a little easier, I'm glad to do what I can."

Tahi said it's not a totally bad thing not to have football right now. He's hip-deep in drills and weight lifting. He is a veteran player with a roster spot and a salary, and he knows the Viking offense.

"It's not a bad thing to have some time off," he said, "let your body heal up and spend some time with the family a little longer."

The tough thing is to be patient and wait things out.

"It just feels a little different," Tahi said.

And it could feel different for a very long time.

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