Sunday slant: Players could feel pinch soon

NFL players collect their paychecks during the regular season, but there are some big workout bonuses that could be affected if the league and players unions can't come to terms months before the season starts.

Looking for a Sunday tear-jerking story? Sorry, you won't find it here.

Instead, there are some cold, hard facts to deal with in the dog-eat-dog world of NFL finance as the owners and players union battle it out in a high-stakes money grab. In hard economic times for most of the world, the National Football League is a $9 billion-a-year business.

Television ratings were never higher than they were last year. Most of the stadiums were full. In short, there were no signs that the most popular sport in the nation by a landslide was still gaining traction while common folks who pitch in their $100 for a ticket or $100 for a jersey were met with recession reality.

Rookie salaries continued to skyrocket. And, as happens every year, certain owners made fool-hearty investments, overpaying veterans that failed to reward the investor with a decent dividend. So who do you feel sorry in this battle of owners and players, billionaires versus millionaires?

The real people to feel sorry for are those who listen to any of the rhetoric from either side. Union chief DeMaurice Smith wanted the public to believe that a lockout of players was a locking out of America and the nation's work ethic. NFL propagandists want fans to believe teams couldn't possibly make ends meet with the current pay structure to players.

It was all most likely hogwash on both sides of the bacon. The reality is that when this much money is at stake, even millionaires and billionaires will say anything to cash bigger checks.

However, now that the two sides went into mediated negotiations, the unbelievable comments have ceased and have been replaced by "no comments" or "we will respect the process." Good. Thank the Lord on this Sunday that the nonsense has gone silent, at least in public, and that those who hold the keys to your favorite spectator sport are saving the bunk for the private boardroom.

But, while some real workers for a few teams around the league are about to feel the pinch of the reduced wages, furloughs or layoffs, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has promised none of that for his employees for the foreseeable future. Good for him, too, because the coaches, trainers, and support staff had nothing to do with the dispute and no control over the direction the NFL and union directed it.

Even so, there are some employees who will the pinch before anyone else – the players.

When it comes to million-dollar contracts that many of the players possess, most of that money is paid in signing bonuses and base salary. The signing bonuses were collected mostly at the start of the contracts and the base salary isn't paid out until the regular season starts and then divvied up on a weekly basis over the 17 weeks of the schedule.

However, to a lesser degree, some players – those with workout bonuses – will feel a smaller percentage of their pay being pulled back this offseason if they aren't able to work out with the team. Until the league and union can come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement, players aren't allowed to work at the team facilities. And offseason conditioning programs, minicamps and organized team activities could be delayed.

For defensive tackle Kevin Williams, that could interrupt a $500,000 annual workout bonus this year. But he isn't the only Vikings player with six figures on the line without much say in it over the coming months. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie could lose his $250,000 workout bonus, and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, wide receiver Bernard Berrian, safety Madieu Williams and linebacker E.J. Henderson could lose $100,000 each with workout bonuses built into their contract.

Other players will feel it to a lesser degree. Steve Hutchinson is scheduled to make $50,000 in workout bonuses if he's participating in offseason programs at Winter Park, as is cornerback Cedric Griffin, who will be busy finishing rehabilitation on his torn anterior cruciate ligament. Some have smaller bonuses, as low as a couple thousand dollars, and others have no workout bonuses to worry about.

In most cases, the workout bonus only account for about 5 percent of the overall earnings in a year, but no matter how well off someone is, nobody is happy about losing money, especially when it happens over something they don't control.

No, you don't need to shed tears over mostly millionaire athletes losing some money in the coming months, but if the stalemate between the union and league continues for a few months there is someone in the NFL feeling a potential economic pinch even before the big paydays of September begin.

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