03/31/11 — Warren, Thornton wait out NFL labor struggle

View Archive

Warren, Thornton wait out NFL labor struggle

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on March 31, 2011 1:47 PM

Unemployment continues to climb daily as million of Americans file claims and beat the pavement to find ways to keep food on the table and a roof over their head.

NFL players hope they don't join the growing line of job seekers within the near future. But the recent lockout imposed by owners has prevented Mount Olive native Greg Warren and Goldsboro High alum David Thornton from signing new contracts in the offseason.

Warren's deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers expired at the end of the season after a loss to the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl.

Thornton became an unrestricted free agent when his contract with the Tennessee Titans also expired last season. A 10-year NFL veteran, Thornton had hip surgery following the 2009 season and did not play a down in 2010.

"It has been a strange process," Warren said from his home this week. "I am trying to keep in shape and keep my technique in order because I have to be ready to go as soon as the lockout ends."

Warren, a Southern Wayne High School graduate, has played all of his five-year professional career in Pittsburgh. Because of the labor unrest. he must wait for both the lockout to end and for the Steelers to make a suitable contract offer.

There is no timetable set for negotiations.

And the 2011 regular season is in jeopardy.

"I never thought things would get to this point," Warren said. "The most popular sport in America is locked out and a lot of players are going through a pretty tense waiting game. Obviously I stand by the union and I think that they will do what is right, but I think everybody hopes that this thing ends sooner rather than later."

Knowing that a lockout was possible following the Super Bowl in February, the NFL Players Union advised all team personnel to save their final two paychecks from 2010 in order to ensure financial stability through the lengthy negotiations.

Warren is not as worried about the financial implications of the lockout as much as the harm that the league could undergo if any regular-season games are canceled.

"I was smart when I came into this league because I knew that things can change very quickly," Warren said. "Guys get hurt, get released, retire ... so there is always a chance that your career can end at any moment. I have paid off most of the stuff I have bought during my time in the NFL, so I am not overly concerned financially even if this thing lasts an entire year."

Warren said both the players and owners understand the damage that a labor battle can do to a popular sports league. Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League underwent similar disputes in the last 15 years and neither have fully recovered. In 2004, the NHL lost its television contract with ESPN and the subsequent millions of dollars it provided.

Major League Baseball has seen dwindling attendance, as well as spotty television ratings, since its labor dispute in 1995.

"Obviously that is the worst-case scenario," Warren said. "No one wants to think that the NFL could take a step backward like that, but it has happened to other major sports so it definitely is something that is in the back of peoples minds."

Meanwhile, Warren keeps himself busy with training and practice.

March is usually a slow time for players when most guys are on vacation or spending time with family. Warren must continue to work because the next opportunity could come at any moment.

"I have spent my whole career in Pittsburgh and this is where I want to be," he said. "But the reality is I am a free agent so I have to be ready for the lockout to end, and for other teams to call and ask me to come work out for them."

Editor's note: Thornton did not return messages left by the News-Argus.