The name on the antitrust lawsuit NFL players have filed against the league — Brady v. NFL — belongs to pro football’s highest-paid player. The nine other plaintiffs are eight financially established veterans and a college star, Von Miller, who is likely to be one of the first five picks in this month’s draft and will earn millions of dollars in his first season.
At the other end of the NFL’s financial spectrum are players such as Selvish Capers, who took home $53,000 during his 20 weeks on the Washington Redskins’ practice squad last season and about $29,500, after taxes, as a signing bonus last June.
“It’s good money, but it’s not ‘all that money’ like people think,” the 6-foot-4, 325-pound offensive tackle says.
With the NFL lockout into its second month, Capers finds himself fighting on two fronts this spring: trying to stay in shape on his own, to preserve his tenuous position on the team, and trying to make ends meet on much less than the $1.9 million average NFL salary or even the $340,000 rookie minimum.
He is not eligible for the NFL Players Association lockout fund, which offers as much as $60,000 to each player, because he was not on the regular 53-man roster last season. To be eligible for those lockout benefits, funded by dues the now defunct union collected during the last two seasons, a player must have been on a 53-man roster and contributing at least since the 2009 season.
January and February are lean months even during a normal offseason, because final game checks are handed out in early January, the week after the last game of the season. But now is when players such as Capers, 24, are starting to feel the effects of the work stoppage.
The Redskins’ offseason conditioning program would have begun in mid-March. Many veteran players earn workout bonuses for attending 85 percent of those sessions. Players such as Capers, meanwhile, would earn between $750 and $850 every two weeks for attending the offseason condition program.
“That’s chump change compared to a lot of guys’ contracts,” Capers admits. “But would it have helped me? Heck yeah!”
Anticipating a lockout, the NFLPA advised players last fall to save as much as possible. Capers’s parents also cautioned him to build his reserves and not overextend himself financially. Capers listened, but things always could be better, he says.
“I saved,” Capers says. “But looking at it now, I should’ve saved more. You’re always kicking yourself. When money’s coming freely, it’s a little harder to think disciplined. Like, I got a luxury apartment in Herndon. My mom was like, ‘Do you need something that fancy?’ But I liked it because I walk downstairs and the grocery store is right there. I want a little entertainment, that’s right there on the corner. Everything is right there. Thinking now, I could’ve gone with something less.”
With no money coming in, Capers said he has started to cut back here and there.
“Me and my girlfriend do a lot more cooking,” says Capers, who grew up just outside New Orleans in Kenner, La. “If we’re going to go out to a movie and dinner or whatever, we really calculate it.”
Redskins defensive end Vonnie Holliday, the team’s representative to the NFLPA, said the players association will try to help players suffering financial hardship who do not qualify for the lockout fund. But Capers doesn’t know how much he would receive and isn’t banking on it.
“If it comes down to it, I’ll get a loan,” He says. “That’s why I hope they get something resolved quickly. If I get workout money, I’m good. But if this thing drags on?”
Even after last season ended, Capers, a seventh-round draft choice out of West Virginia, continued to work out about five times a week at Redskins Park, where the training staff and state of the art equipment were available to him for free. But now, with access to Redskins Park, coaches and trainers denied because of the lockout, Capers and his teammates must work out on their own and can’t seek team advice on how to improve during the offseason.
“It’s like you got kicked out of your house and you didn’t do anything wrong,” Capers says. “It’s not a good feeling at all. You’ve got to go about everything on your own, and hope you’re doing everything you need to for you to stay ready.”
Neither Coach Mike Shanahan nor his staff advised players at the end of the season about what to do should a lockout occur.
“That’s not my job,” Shanahan said last month when asked what advice he gave players the last time he saw them in January. “If these guys don’t take initiative, then I’ve got the wrong guys on the football team.”
Capers knew sitting around waiting for a resolution of the lockout would cost him more than just lost workout money.
After shopping for the least-expensive gym membership he could find, Capers began working out on his own at the LA Fitness in Dulles. Worried that he couldn’t push himself hard enough, Capers decided he had better hire the services of one of the gym’s trainers and was assigned to Stan Johnson, whom Capers describes as a godsend.
“We’re focusing on improving his strength,” Johnson says. “As a former tight end, he already has great agility, which is a great asset. He’s working hard.”
Capers’s focus is on simply earning a spot on the 53-man roster. To do that, he will have to show growth, development and potential. Until the lockout ends, there is no one to see that improvement.
Trent Williams is entrenched at left tackle. But veteran right tackles Jammal Brown and Stephon Heyer are due to become free agents whenever a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. Capers sees this offseason as a prime opportunity.
“This offseason is crucial for anybody with something to prove,” Capers says. “I’ve got to show more than I did last year. I’m eager for them to get this taken care of. I’m having dreams about playing football. I’m trying to do whatever I need to do to make this team, and work my way into the rotation. Whenever they say come back to work, I’m going to show them I’ve been working.”
Capers’s veteran teammates say he’s going about his business the right way.
Fellow lineman Artis Hicks said he advised Capers to “just keep training and preparing as he would if the lockout was going to end tomorrow. Because whenever it does end, it’s going to be a mad dash to get the vets ready to roll, so the coaches aren’t going to have extra time to work with the young guys who are still on the bubble to make the team.”
Said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who also started out on the practice squad: “I’d find a guy like [recently released Redskins lineman] Derrick Dockery, who is established in the league, and train with him, learn how to play guard as well. Make yourself valuable at multiple positions and they’ll have a hard time getting rid of you. And with the lockout, just stay ready.”
Capers is trying to do that as he maintains faith that the players’ representatives are doing what’s best for him in the long run. It’s not always easy, however.
“It’s hard because you’re like, ‘Just get it taken care of.’ But at the same time, you can’t be selfish, and you know that it’s bigger than you. You’ve just got to trust that they will get the best deal for us, and be smart while you wait.”