Washington Redskins players prepared for a prolonged period of uncertainty over the future of their sport following the collapse of the NFL’s labor talks that left them frustrated with the league’s team owners.
Ending their negotiations with the league over a new collective bargaining agreement, NFL players dissolved their union Friday afternoon. Owners locked out the players early Saturday, shutting down the sport for the first time in 24 years.
“I still need to make some phone calls and continue to gain an understanding, but hopefully the season is saved,” said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, one of the team’s three captains last season. “We really don’t know what is next.”
The one thing Alexander and his teammates said they were certain of, however, was that the failed negotiations have provoked bitterness on both sides. Redskins players said they believe the impasse — which at its core involved differences over how to divide the NFL’s $9 billion in annual revenue — could have been avoided.
“When they said they extended the original deadline, I got kinda optimistic,” linebacker Chris Wilson said. “But then when I didn’t get any reports of real progress, it was almost like it was all for PR, like, ‘Let’s do this to show we’re working to get a better deal.’ But from what I understand, the deal never got any better, really.”
As a result of the lockout, players will have to work out on their own until a labor agreement is reached. Most Redskins said that’s not a problem.
“The onus is on the players. You have to ask young men to be men,” said defensive end Vonnie Holliday, the team’s player representative. “A lot of guys have been calling around. I heard of a large group of group of guys getting together in Arizona. Down here where I stay in Atlanta, I know guys are going to be training together. A lot of guys have taken it upon themselves.”
Alexander said if the work stoppage drags on, he and fellow linebacker London Fletcher will likely get teammates together for occasional walk-throughs so they remain familiar with the team’s offensive and defensive schemes.
The NFL draft will be held as scheduled next month, but all other league activities such as voluntary offseason training sessions and mandatory minicamps would be suspended.
While staying in shape without the organized training may not be that difficult, the areas involving player finances and contracts will be far more complicated.
Offseason training sessions usually begin right after the draft, and some Redskins players — among them Fletcher, Alexander, tight end Chris Cooley, defensive back DeAngelo Hall, quarterback Donovan McNabb and offensive lineman Artis Hicks — have clauses in their contracts that pay them bonuses if they report to 85 percent of the voluntary workout sessions. It is believed that Redskins players could miss out on a total of around $1.5 million in workout bonuses as a result of the work stoppage.
NFL players don’t receive paychecks during the offseason. Paychecks are doled out from the second week of September to the week after the final regular season game in early January. So players won’t start feeling the real financial effects of a stoppage until game checks are missed.
The NFL Players Association instructed players this past year to save 50 percent of their income so they would be able to weather a prolonged work stoppage.
“It won’t be hard for me because I’ve always been a saver,” running back Chad Simpson said. “I’ve been on a couple of teams [Indianapolis and Washington in three seasons] and know that you don’t always get opportunities based on talent alone, so I’ve saved because you never know.”
Simpson added: “And it won’t be hard for guys who just got deals and big bonuses, like free agent talent or rookies that just got paid. But for other guys, yeah. I’m not naming no names, but there are guys I know that are already struggling. You got guys that have their parties they gotta go to, and jewelry. They don’t understand it’s going to be rough.”
Holliday, meanwhile, said the perception that the players are a “bunch of millionaires” is inaccurate. While many star players earn several millions of dollars per year, the league minimum salary for rookies last season was $320,000.
“I’m so sick and tired of reading and hearing on TV that this is an argument amongst billionaires and millionaires,” Holliday said. “The average NFL career is about 31 / 2 years. If you’re not a first-rounder, you have no major deal, that means half the guys aren’t even making it to that big payday. So, then this is not millionaires against billionaires at all.”
Redskins players said they don’t know when or exactly how the dispute will be resolved, but most said they believe it will be settled well before regular season games are threatened.
“It’s anyone’s guess, but prayerfully, it is resolved soon,” said Wilson, whose contract is up but is prevented from re-signing with Washington until there is a new CBA. “Ultimately, the owners want football to be played, and players want to play football. Personally, I don’t think it’s that hard for the two sides to work something out. Just got to pray it’s soon.”