Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Undrafted NFL players like Virginia Tech's Darren Evans locked out of a fighting chance

Virginia Tech tailback Darren Evans is one of the many faces of the unemployed in the ongoing NFL labor dispute.

Finally, a reason to care.

Face it: Either way, we're going to be inundated with NFL labor news for the next few months, or at least until this thing is resolved. And if you're anything like me, you haven't given the first rip about what happens when millionaires face off against billionaires. You might miss the NFL in September if it comes to that, but you're sure not missing it now.

As such, you've found these constant interviews with the key parties as enlightening as a Q&A session with Charlie Brown's teacher.

Reporter: "We're here with DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association. DeMaurice, with the NFL generating nearly $9 billion in revenue last season, we know everyone wants to make a deal and keep the good times rolling. Tell us: What's it going to take to bridge the gap between the owners and players?"

Smith: "Wah Wah Wah Woh Wah Wah..."

But no longer.

This thing matters now, because the dispute has a face: that of former Virginia Tech tailback Darren Evans.

He's a husband. Father. Soon-to-be Tech grad.

Unemployed seeker of work.

If you're not an Evans guy, there are plenty of other names you can pick. West Virginia's Noel Devine. Delaware's Pat Devlin. N.C. State's Owen Spencer. Virginia's (and Cave Spring's) Danny Aiken. Shoot, linebacker Mark Herzlich out of Boston College would be a great one to adopt as the cause celebre, considering he's overcome a rare form of bone cancer just to get to the brink of a pro career.

All are guys who were on that precarious drafted/undrafted line heading into last weekend -- and fell on the wrong side. Nobody picked them. And now, nobody knows what happens to them.

Any other year, that could be a blessing. They would become free agents, and they could work with their agents to find teams that really need guys with their skill sets. They would go into training camp and show what they could do. If they failed, well, at least they failed on their own terms.

Not this year.

This year, thanks to the NFL lockout, they can't have any contact with teams. So they sit there ... and wait. And each day that passes with the lockout in place marks one fewer opportunity to show they belong in the NFL.

Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis will be fine however long this takes. Nobody cries for them. Heck, a lot of NFL vets are probably glad this work stoppage has occurred because it means they don't have to show up for any official functions.

But Evans, who left Blacksburg a year early so he could pursue his dream, needs this kind of evaluation period And he's a person you can rally around.

(By the way: I don't mean "rally around" like shouting "WE WANT FOOTBALL!" during the fourth round of the draft, like those meatheads at Radio City Music Hall did. Those guys just want to draft a fantasy team in August and enjoy some cold ones on Sundays this fall. But in their zeal, they've simply enforced the owners' position that this nation cannot do without its pro pigskin. That doesn't help.) Evans left Tech because he wanted to work. He had a year of eligibility left, but he's going to graduate this month, so he wanted to get on with his life and make some money doing what he does best. And anybody who's watched him during the past few years would agree that what he does best -- run through tacklers and gain yardage -- would be a plus to some NFL team out there.

Here's hoping he gets the chance to prove it. And if it takes Charlie Brown's teachers reaching a common language, well, then that's something to pull for this summer.

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