Indianapolis Colts linebacker Gary Brackett promises to be ready for the start of next season — whenever it is.
He also wants to be smart in these uncertain times.
Indianapolis’ 30-year-old defensive captain, like his NFL brethren, is preparing for a potential lockout when the collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of Thursday. The best way to do that, it seems, is heeding the advice the players’ union has been offering for more than a year — take care of your medical insurance and finances.
Brackett isn’t the only player trying to figure out solutions, which is why agents are now playing a new role for their clients.
“We’re advising players on COBRA insurance to anything that involves finances to the football side of it,” said Ben Dogra, who represents Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and St. Louis’ Sam Bradford. “It’s literally everything.”
None of the answers are simple.
Most agents are now talking frequently about COBRA coverage, which one agent estimates will cost players $800 to $900 per month to cover their families. Some are advising clients to take out additional medical policies or disability insurance.
Agent Brian Mackler, who represents Jets linebacker David Harris, said most of his clients now have policies with Lloyd’s of London, and he’s reminding those who are 26 years old or younger that the new federal health care law allows them to sign up on their parents’ medical plans, too.
The message is the same for everyone.
“The thing is you’ve got to get it taken care of now because you can’t let the insurance run out,” said longtime agent Tony Agnone, who represents Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. “We sent an e-mail to every one of our players to make sure they get insurance. That’s the most important thing to us.”
Medical coverage is only one concern for the players.
If a new CBA isn’t signed before Thursday and players are locked out immediately, as some suspect, they will not be allowed to train at team facilities. Depending on the length of the lockout, offseason programs and mini-camps could be canceled and training camps could be condensed, putting even more pressure on guys like Brackett to report in shape whenever a new deal is reached.
Brackett isn’t taking any chances.
“They’ve made it clear that football will be played at some point this season and we have to be ready to go when we do play,” he said.
It’s not the first time pro athletes have faced this dilemma, and the current football players may look to other sports for some of the solutions.
During the NBA’s six-month lockout in 1998-99, Reggie Miller and Mark Jackson rounded up their Indiana Pacers teammates for regular workouts at a health club on the city’s west side. The Pacers had almost perfect attendance that fall and winter and many thought the extra workouts would give Indiana a major advantage when the season resumed.
The Pacers didn’t make the Finals that season. They did the next year.
And now NFL agents seem to be taking a page right out of the Pacers’ playbook.
They are instructing players to find fitness facilities that cater to top-notch athletes, work out with other players and hope that the peer pressure helps mitigate the risks, which could be costly.
“If a player gets hurt working out outside the team program, it’s considered a non-football injury and the team would not be obligated to pay any salary when on that list,” agent David Levine said.
The scenarios are complicated — and not just for the players.
If there is a lockout, free agency is unlikely to happen until after the draft. And rookies will not have access to workouts, playbooks or team personnel until a new CBA is in place, perhaps creating a steeper learning curve and what some contend could be a lost draft class.
“It’s difficult being a rookie as it is,” Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli said. “The rookie issue, I think, really is up to the individual. But if it’s going to be an issue, it’s going to be the same for everyone.”
Veterans find themselves in a different predicament.
Take four-time league MVP Peyton Manning, considered one of the league’s hardest workers. He encourages teammates regularly to attend the same offseason program, mini-camps and summer school sessions he does. Manning has also been known to take his teammates out of town for workouts as he did last summer with Anthony Gonzalez.
In Manning’s case, agent Tom Condon is simply staying out of the way.
“You don’t have to advise Peyton on anything related to football,” Condon said.
But Manning appears to be taking a wait-and-see approach this year. He was designated the Colts’ exclusive franchise player on Feb. 15, meaning he would make about $23 million if he plays under the tag.
“I don’t know of anything (workouts) yet, but if something is organized, I’m sure that I’ll be at it,” Gonzalez said. “None of us, that I know of, has been in a lockout or strike situation. But I believe in our guys and that we’ll get ourselves going and we’ll be ready to go whether the season starts Aug. 1 or Sept. 1.”
Until then, agents will continue to provide answers and suggestions — hoping that players do what they must to safely prepare for a new season.
“What you want to tell players is to use good judgment,” Dogra said. “You want them to work out and be as safe as possible because if you suffer an injury, that’s a gray area. But you need to work out.”
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