NFL lockout sets in for players: Time to get a real job

The NFL?stands could be empty in September. Donald Jones (right) says he's being careful with his money during the lockout.

He isn’t quite ready to throw up his résumé on Monster.com, but Buffalo Bills wide receiver Donald Jones is ready to get down to work.

Instead of workouts and minicamp preparation, the undrafted rookie in 2010 is working out with several other NFL players at his own expense at TEST Sports Clubs in Martinsville, N.J. because of the NFL lockout.

“Right now, I’m just being really careful, not going out much, not spending too much, Jones told Metro. “For me, I’m not a big spender. But you need to be wiser in what you spend. This thing might go on for awhile.”

Midway through the season, the NFL Players Association circulated a memo to all active players that they should save their paychecks from the final four games of the year as a lockout fund, to help aid them through the work stoppage. For players still fresh in the league who haven’t landed job security let alone their first big paycheck finances are a major issue.

"We understand that the finances of it, those are some big numbers on both sides," Jets defensive end Jamaal Westerman said. "No one is crying for us right now but for guys like me, we still need to make sure that financially the best decisions are being made. Maybe you don’t buy that car right now or that house. There is uncertainty that impacts decisions."

The players are relying on their agents for information about the lockout and the outlook for when paychecks will begin being deposited into their accounts again. The long haul is a scary proposition for the younger players who may not have the deep financial pockets to ride out an extended work stoppage.  On the flip side, veteran players in the final year or two of their playing career are seeing a risk factor as well.

While Kris Jenkins signed a $30.25 million contract for five years in 2008, the recently cut Jets defensive tackle sees risk in the labor dispute. Sure, Jenkins has made his NFL fortune as a Pro Bowl player, but the 31-year-old who is coming off two knee surgeries in as many years has a dwindling number of seasons left to maximize his financial future.

Jenkins teases that his wife won’t let him take a paycut.

"We understand that there is animosity, that this is business and that no one goes into or starts up a business to lose money or make less money. We get that the ownership in this league wants to make money, what’s to increase profit. We get that,"  Jenkins said. "From our end, we’re not trying to be greedy but if you’re the owner of the team, you have enough money to buy a team. You also have enough money to take care of your team on and off the field."

And while the owners are prepared to ride out the storm without a lifestyle change, the players around the league are preparing for life without football.and a regular paycheck.

The Canadian Football League and the United Football League would seem like good options for some of these players who are out of contract and in particular, those on a NFL practice squad. After the 2009 season, 23 players from the UFL signed a NFL contract and 47 did so last year but the second-tier league will struggle to attract players jumping ship from Sundays in search of a regular paycheck.  With an average salary of roughly $50,000 and the season slated to end in late October, the league would seem a good fit for a younger player looking to get snaps and then sign a midseason contract in the NFL.

"In the event of a NFL lockout, free agents will be able to sign with United Football League teams," said UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue. "We anticipate that the standard of play established in two seasons by the UFL and the opportunity to earn a salary while playing in the traditional fall season will appeal to many players."

There is appeal, but NFL players, even those not under contract and free to sign with the league, know that an injury in the UFL or the CFL would derail an even bigger paycheck down the road.

"The risk just isn’t worth it for a lot of guys," Westerman said. "I’m under contract but I don’t think a lot of guys would want to play and get an injury and then maybe lose their spot on a team. It’s better to ride it out."

Which means that for players like Jones, they’re looking at other options for income. He is considering coaching or working at a facility like TEST Sports Clubs as an instructor, working on skills with younger athletes. Westerman might coach locally, too, to stay busy and perhaps make some extra money. Jones teased that he would even consider working in an office and that maybe he’ll be the voice on the other end of the line, doing tele sales.

"It’s going to be interesting, the longer this goes on, guys will have to start thinking about getting behind a desk or some type of a traditional 9 to 5," Westerman said. "Who knows, that starting quarterback might just be bagging your groceries six months from now."


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