Free-spending NFL players aren't ready for looming lockout

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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These are the stories being told around the NFL. These are the stories that scare the hell out of me for football players.

One backup offensive lineman bought three cars in two months.

A quarterback recently closed on a third home.

DeMaurice Smith is trying to convince players they need to save for a rainy day. (Getty Images)  
DeMaurice Smith is trying to convince players they need to save for a rainy day. (Getty Images)  
Third. During a recession.

Another player who earns millions is living paycheck to paycheck. Another is in serious debt. Yet another has no savings. Yet another might be close to declaring bankruptcy.

These are the stories I'm hearing. These are the stories that scare the hell out of me, and I'm not alone in being nervous.

Team representatives from the NFL Players Association have been telling players for months (if not several years) to cut spending and save cash. Some players have clearly gotten the message and are stockpiling savings. In some cases, players are selling assets in preparation for the all but certain lockout to come soon.

Still, a significant number of players aren't, according to various league sources. Owners are aware of this and plan to use the players' lack of spending control against them should the expected labor strife occur.

The NBA might be having similar issues and I'm told individual players from football and basketball are increasingly discussing the best strategies to save large chunks of money as preparation for the lockout.

Owners are expecting a lockout of about six games, league sources state. The players are expecting slightly fewer games but are preparing for a worst-case scenario of half the season.

The problem for the players is owners can deal with eight games of potentially no revenue better than the players. Indeed, Forbes magazine estimates that each NFL owner makes an average profit of $31 million a year.

Some players will have difficulty handling the loss of a single paycheck, let alone six or eight.

Many players are highly responsible and save large chunks of their huge paychecks but too many aren't even close to being ready for the financial dangers a lockout presents.

The owners know this and are secretly relying on some players' inability to cut back on spending as a sort of ultimate, unspoken leverage.

Players might be at a lockout disadvantage but owners -- despite their large profits -- could still have their own financial issues because of stadium payments and other expenditures. This is why the union and owners are currently fighting before a special master over how next season's television revenues would be distributed if there was a lockout.

The current television deals call for owners to receive monies even if there's a lockout. The players wouldn't get a dime and the union contends this is basically a billion-dollar slush fund for owners. If the owners are successful before the special master they would have a major advantage over the players.

This is an extraordinarily complex issue. Unions can't force their membership to be fiscally responsible. They can't stop a player from purchasing multiple homes with a lockout on the horizon. But if they don't prevent players from making unwise decisions the union will get crushed when the lockout happens.

This union, led by DeMaurice Smith, is different from the last one, headed by the late Gene Upshaw. The current leadership has spent extensive time warning and prepping players for the lockout. Upshaw's union -- and this is my opinion -- basically left the rank and file to fight for itself while catering to the more powerful players during Upshaw's bouts with owners.

The current union started last season asking players to put aside anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of their paychecks and are continuing to do so now, sources claim. Some players on teams are saving half of their paychecks while others are saving none of the funds.

How much the players are listening is the question. Some are being highly responsible while too many, it seems, aren't.

Those who aren't saving should ask themselves: How many cars do you need? How many houses?

How many?

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