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With 2011 lockout feared, NFL players told to save


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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Scan the players' parking lot at Bank of America 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 with fancy rims take up nearly every space.


The Carolina 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 sport.

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 spigot could soon be turned off.



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Free Draft Guide "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 next to 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 $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 $34.6 million per team. The cap was at $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 $128 million this season, a $12 million spike from 2008.



Mushin Muhammed wants players to know that the money won't last forever. (Craig Jones / Getty Images)


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 aren't buying it.


"Everybody's on notice," said Washington long-snapper Ethan Albright, the Redskins' interim union rep. "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."


Hence the urgency to save - new ground for many players. With the rookie minimum salary jumping to $310,000 and with signing bonuses for top picks growing yearly, most players have entered a tax bracket where a household budget isn't necessary.


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