TAMPA — Bucs center Jeff Faine says a potential lockout in 2011 is like "the monster that is hiding in your closet — and you don't want to open the closet door."
But it's an issue that the union has brought to the forefront the past several months, encouraging players to begin preparing now for the worst: a year without paychecks.
With the owners opting for an early end to the collective bargaining agreement after the 2010 season because of concern about the rising salary cap ($127 million this season), there have been ominous predictions of a work stoppage, which could be a significant hit especially for players who are on the lower tier of the salary spectrum.
That's partly why representatives from the National Football League Players Association, or NFLPA, are scheduled to be at One Buc Place today to discuss with players potential financial game plans. Receiver Michael Clayton, a union rep, said they've suggested players put away 25 percent of their take-home pay; he said there is also a plan for dues to increase, and options where players' marketing checks get held and put in an interest-bearing account (which he said will allow players to receive $3,000 to $4,000 a month, and help with attorney fees).
"There are a lot of guys in the NFL who are just trying to make it," said Bucs long-snapper Andrew Economos, 27, who makes a $535,000 base salary. "They don't have that luxury of having the guaranteed contract, or guaranteed money. So (the union) is just trying to make sure everyone gets some kind of paycheck, if (a lockout) happens."
While no uniform policy appears to be set, players from each team are discussing which plans work best for them. Players — from stars to those on the practice squad — agree that they better be prepared.
"(The union) relayed to us we have to take it serious and start being proactive," Clayton said. "Every other lockout, we learned that they weren't prepared, that the reason why it broke (the union) is because players weren't receiving any money. So we're trying to put ourselves in a position where it can help in case of a lockout.
"You look at it, while you're making money is the best time to be putting it away. Now is the best time."
Clayton, 27, who signed a five-year deal worth up to $26 million in the offseason, said the union's financial planning initiatives are aimed toward lower-paid players.
Players say they definitely feel fortunate, considering the recession that has resulted in millions of lost jobs. But with the average NFL career 3.5 years, according to the NFLPA, they know they have to make their money last.
For every player on a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal, there's one like receiver Brian Clark, a Tampa native who worked his way up from the practice squad and makes $535,000, near the rookie league minimum ($310,000).
Clark, 25, and his wife, Shawntae, had their first child this year (Christian) and recently bought their first home. He said it was a big adjustment when he first came into the league to get paid once every two weeks just during the regular season; so he can imagine how tough it'd be if it were zero.
"They're telling us to prepare for the worst," Clark said. "I still haven't received that big lucrative contract, so I'm still at the very low spectrum as far as the NFL is concerned. They say to conserve your money. … You could not be in this game, period, (or) you can also be out of a job for a whole year."
Jason Cole, a certified financial planner at Abacus Wealth Partners, has several NFL clients, and delivers a similar message.
"I think players should definitely think two, three or four times about buying anything that's not a necessity right now," he said, "Given what could be a significantly ugly situation within the NFL."
Just in case that monster does actually come out of the closet.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com