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September 10, 2009

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Home » Sports » American Football

Lockout looms, players told to save

SCAN the players' parking lot at the Carolina Panthers' stadium and you catch a glimpse of the luxury an NFL career can bring. Late-model Mercedes, Lexuses, foreign sports cars and souped-up SUVs take up nearly every space.

The Panthers are no different from the rest of the NFL. After years of skyrocketing salaries tied to booming league revenues, players have cashed in on being part of a hugely popular league.

Yet with labor rhetoric rising and fears of a lengthy lockout in 2011, there's a much different message being sent to players by the union: The money tap could soon be turned off.

"I think it's very important that we show some restraint on spending a lot of money and being frivolous," said receiver Muhsin Muhammad, Carolina's union representative. "I think young players need to worry about necessities, because after two years nothing is guaranteed."

With the owners deciding to trigger an early end to the collective bargaining agreement after the 2010 season, there are ominous predictions of a lengthy work stoppage that could wipe out the 2011 season - leaving players used to living in excess without any income.

"From our standpoint right now, you not only prepare for the worst, that seems like the direction it's headed," Tennessee defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "If players aren't prepared, if guys are in bad financial situations, it hurts our leverage as players."

The situation has led to a burst of activity by the NFL Players Association. The union sent out a letter to players this summer talking about a "25-25 program." It suggests saving at least 25 percent of take-home pay this year and build a nest egg if the checks - and benefits - disappear.

Players say the union also is considering putting some revenue from dues and licensing agreements in an escrow account that would be paid to players if there are no games.

"They're going to probably want guys to increase their dues to the union in case there is a (lockout)," said defensive end Dewayne White, Detroit's NFLPA rep. "We're working on that plan and trying to figure out how and how much guys would get paid - maybe US$50,000 for the year."

For the millions who have lost jobs in the past two years, it may be difficult to have sympathy for players - or the owners who reap billions of dollars in television revenue.

The NFL's first salary cap, implemented in 1994, was US$34.6 million per team. The cap was at US$85.5 million before the CBA was extended in 2006. That agreement calls for players to receive 60 percent of league revenues. That caused a massive jump in the cap to US$128 million this season, a US$12 million spike from 2008.

Owners, concerned about those rising salaries, voted to reopen negotiations on an agreement that was originally scheduled to expire in 2013.

"Our focus is on bargaining and negotiations and getting a deal," said Jeff Pash, the owners' lead negotiator.

"Anyone who says our goal is to lock the players out or shut down our business, that is a view that is really divorced from reality."

The players don't believe it.

"From the actions that (NFLPA chief DeMaurice) Smith is watching, the owners are taking all the steps to set up for a lockout in 2011," said long-snapper Ethan Albright, Washington's interim union rep.

Hence the urgency to save - new ground for many players.


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