The Washington Times - February 23, 2011, 06:15PM

Let’s hope hunkering down with a federal mediator will enable NFL owners and players to find a middle ground. If they don’t, though, and a lockout ensues, well, there’s no road map at that point, no telling how this thing will turn out.

Make no mistake, the 2011 season, assuming there is one, isn’t going to be anything like the strike seasons in 1982 and ‘87 — not, that is, if there’s a league-wide shutdown March 4. No, this is going to be a much more cataclysmic event. Allow me to explain why.

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In ‘82 and ‘87, the offseason was essentially undisturbed, despite the labor strife. There was the draft. There were minicamps and organized team activities. There were player trades. There was training camp. There were even two weeks of regular-season games before the union went on strike.

In other words, clubs were able to conduct business — and to reshape their rosters — the way they normally would. The players, moreover, were able to prepare for the season in their usual manner. Yes, the strikes caused games to be lost, but team building went on pretty much as it always did.

That might not be the case if there’s a lockout. The draft will be held as scheduled, of course, but no swaps of veteran players will be permitted, nor will there be any free agency, minicamps or OTAs. And it’s anyone’s guess how much of training camp will be salvaged and how many preseason games will be played, which means the onus will be on the players to get themselves in shape. Some will do a better job than others; and if a guy pulls a hamstring in the early going, it’ll be only natural to wonder whether he reported in suitable condition. (Indeed, it’ll be a huge surprise if the Injury Factor isn’t much higher.)

On top of that, if the free agent signing period is cut short — because an August labor deal wouldn’t allow for much of a run-up to the season — the Redskins might have to scale back their rebuilding plans. That, too, could slow the turnaround process. Something else to consider: If there’s a lid on player trades until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, the draft picks Shanahan dreams of getting for McNabb and Albert Haynesworth might be for next year rather than this year.

What we’re talking about here is the possibility that 2011 could turn out to be a replay, almost, of 2010. Think about it. With the offseason wiped out, the better teams would be more likely to remain the better teams because they wouldn’t, ordinarily, be looking to make wholesale changes. They could just continue to grow with the players they already have (albeit at a slower pace because of the offseason disruption).

The lesser teams, on the other hand, would be more likely to remain the lesser teams because they’d have less time to overhaul their rosters and integrate new players. Any club that changed coaches would be at a particular disadvantage. Can you imagine how ragged the Redskins would have looked early last season if Shanahan hadn’t been permitted any contact with them until August? Actually, let me rephrase that: Can you imagine how much more ragged the Redskins would have looked?

At any rate, if there’s a lockout of any duration, you might not see as many new faces in the playoffs this year. That’s not good news for the Redskins — or for Shanahan, who hasn’t taken a team to the postseason since 2005. So can everybody, labor and management alike, please come to their senses and get this deal done — before I sic Ed Hochuli on you?