No football? No bling for rookies, vets
The ongoing labor battle has ceased big spending and forced players to stay on a budget
Like many Americans his age, the rookie linebacker, 22, still lives at home with his mother and tries not to drive his pickup truck around his hometown of Tampa, Fla., too much with the soaring prices at gas stations putting a stranglehold on wallets everywhere.
As for buying any jewelry or designer clothes like some newly minted draft picks might typically do, Williams doesn't even think about it. The former South Florida linebacker still borrows a few bucks from time to time from his mother, Theolanda, to help provide for his three young children. And he has to stay in shape to be ready when there is football, so he works with an understanding trainer who has given him a discounted deal.
Williams, who was chosen 202nd overall, likely would have been in line to sign a contract worth roughly $330,000 with a signing bonus of possibly $90,000 before the lockout.
But with no end in sight to the NFL labor battle and uncertainty surrounding what the collective bargaining agreement will be in 2011, Williams doesn't know when he will receive his first check or how much he will earn. In the meantime, he lives just like he had been before he became a pro.
"I'm still an average Joe," Williams says. "Just chilling."
Instead of buying new ice, high-profile first-rounders and late draft picks such as Williams are all pretty much on ice right now due to the work stoppage.
In fact, the lockout has had an effect on everyone from NFL superstars down to undrafted free agents. Each player has to proceed with caution not only financially but also physically as they try to avoid injuries.
Not only have the paychecks come to a halt during the lockout, but so has the medical coverage. Players have had to sign up for COBRA insurance or join their spouse's plan or stay under their parents' coverage, as most rookies are doing.
Some players also are taking out disability insurance and even life insurance plans. In this lockout climate, players can train all they want on their own and conduct workouts at high school fields, like Giants quarterback Eli Manning and Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez have done. But if a player suffers an injury during these workouts, he is on his own without coverage from the team as long as the lockout continues.
"The man upstairs," wide receiver Michael Clayton answered when asked what coverage he has in case he gets hurt while catching passes from Manning at a recent workout at Hoboken High School (N.J.). "That is my insurance plan."
Clayton has been traveling back and forth from Tampa to New Jersey to participate in workouts organized by Manning. The veteran receiver is a free agent and has no idea where he will be playing once the season begins. He just hopes to stick in the NFL after spending time in the UFL last year before being signed by the Giants late. His wife and three children are currently covered by COBRA health insurance, and he has saved enough money from seven years in the league.
But not everyone is as fortunate to have played as long.
Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, an undrafted free agent who is entering his second season as a pro after missing most of his rookie season with a hamstring injury, was one of the receivers working with Clayton and Manning during the workouts the past two weeks.
The fan favorite currently is renting an apartment in Lyndhurst, N.J., and has been saving money since last year in preparation for the lockout. It also helps that he lives close to his mother, Blanca, who has Cruz on her insurance plan and still prepares home-cooked meals for the wide receiver from time to time.
Cruz says he receives aid from the NFL Players Association's established fund to help players in need during the labor strife. He estimates he will receive three payments of about $6,000 each based on how many years he has played.
Minimum salary contracts can start around $330,000 and range to just less than $900,000 depending on experience. The average NFL salary exceeds $2 million per season, according to NFL.com. Those numbers could change once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
"I am doing fairly well," said Cruz, who talked to a teammate recently who was having insurance issues. "I use that [lockout fund] a little bit, and also my financial people keep me on a nice budget."
Keeping NFL players on a budget is what Reggie Wilkes has been doing for 18 years.
Wilkes, a financial adviser and vice president at Merrill Lynch and the Wilkes Sports Management and Advisory group, has been drawing up budgets for clients to follow.
This year, though, is unique since there's no way to know when the lockout will end.
"We are looking at their budgets more aggressively," said Wilkes, a former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker who advises more than 35 NFL players, including Jets linebacker Bart Scott. "We make sure we can eliminate those unnecessary expenses that they really can afford to not waste their money with at this point."
Wilkes advises his clients, a few of them first-round picks in the 2011 draft, to cut back on expenses such as personal chefs, marketing representatives, and even assistants who do their personal shopping and help with their image.
"Players actually have these other professionals that do those jobs," Wilkes said. "They have to forego those extravagant payments until this thing is clarified."
For players with young children and a family to support, Wilkes might even suggest alternative measures such as deferring payments on college savings plans for their children for a few months if necessary.
Some of Wilkes' clients are saving money by doing things like cutting back on dry cleaning. But most NFL players are trying to stay away from the major purchases.
The 2011 rookies have had to exercise a lot more patience than their predecessors. Typically, the second overall pick in the draft might purchase a massive home, a new luxury SUV and extravagant jewelry shortly after the draft.
But Von Miller, the Texas A&M linebacker drafted second overall by the Broncos, said he was prepared to stay at home with his parents if the lockout dragged on for months.
"I've been fortunate enough to come from a very financially stable household," Miller said hours before shaking hands with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as the newest Bronco. "I'm blessed to have two parents that have worked and broke their backs for me and my little brother. If all else fails, I will move back home and just get back in my room and eat up those free meals until the lockout is lifted.
"Honestly, I have been living the life of an average football player for a minute now," Miller added.
"I don't want to spend any money I don't have," Cobb said. "I don't want to be in any debt. No bling, nothing like that. I'm still driving an '05 TrailBlazer and waiting until my first paycheck."
Cobb might sound like one of John Mangum's clients. Mangum, a senior vice president of CAPTRUST Financial Advisors' athlete division, advises about 60 NFL players, including three rookies who were first-round picks.
Mangum has told his clients not to spend money they don't have yet.
"Usually on draft day, you know what that player is going to make and you look at what the player drafted there made last year and add a percentage," said Mangum, who played nine seasons for the Bears. "After this draft, you don't know what the CBA is. Is there a rookie pay scale?
"Now you have no clue," Mangum added. "Guaranteed money can be cut significantly. A lot of times, a rookie would get drafted and buy a home and be in it by the time training camp started. But this year, everything is on hold."
The uncertainty of the lockout has kept one man relatively busy. Richard "Big Daddy" Salgado is the president of Coastal Advisors LLC, which provides life and disability insurance.
He has added 20 NFL players, including four first-round picks, to his stable of NFL, NHL and MLB clients since the lockout began.
This week, more players called inquiring about disability coverage.
"Players are starting to realize that if they get hurt in these unsupervised workouts, they can go on the non-football injury list and not get paid," Salgado said. "What happens if a guy blows out an Achilles or shoulder?"
Disability provides coverage only if a player suffers a career-ending injury. Still, first-round picks such as Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson, Jets defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson, Baltimore cornerback Jimmy Smith and New Orleans defensive end Cam Jordan all signed with Salgado to protect their potential earnings in case of a career-threatening injury.
Barry Cofield isn't a rookie, but he's waiting, like the rookies, to see how much he will earn in 2011. The Giants defensive tackle is unsure whether he will be a restricted free agent or an unrestricted free agent based on what the collective bargaining agreement will be. He wants to cash in on the biggest contract of his life after having a career year last season.
"I actually did a little disability insurance with him in lieu of not having the long-term extension that I would like," said Cofield, who is entering his sixth season.
Teammate Justin Tuck has pretty much prepared himself for everything this lockout throws at him, including the unforeseen. The Giants defensive end has life insurance to cover his family.
"It was important for me because you never know what is going to happen," said Tuck, whose younger sister Brittany attends the University of Alabama and was fortunate enough to recently avoid the path of a tornado that hit a block away from her. "A lot of times, people that are in my situation think they are superheroes and they are never going to get hurt and never have anything happen that you would need insurance for.
"We are not employed right now, so anything that happens, you really don't have that backbone to fall back to," he added.
Tuck is one of the fortunate NFL players who has already earned a monster contract and has the means to take care of his family and help others, as he is doing in Alabama to aid tornado victims.
Others, such as undrafted free agent Dan DePalma, wait for a chance to earn their first paycheck. The 5-foot-11 receiver from Division II West Chester (Pa.) University worked out for the Giants prior to the draft and was invited by tight end Kevin Boss to join Manning's workouts at Hoboken this week.
In a normal year, undrafted free agents receive calls from teams as soon as the draft ends to join rookie camps and minicamps. But due to the lockout, DePalma -- who lives at home with his parents in Verona, N.J., and is covered by their insurance plan -- trains with a few Giants at a local gym and sometimes works for a neighbor in a water company warehouse for cash.
"Just getting out of college, I'm not exactly the most wealthy person in the world," DePalma said.
Williams knows exactly how DePalma feels, and he was drafted. Until there's football again, he'll be leaning on his parents as well.
"I try to help him out as much as I can," Theolanda Williams said. "His father helps him out here and there. He just has to maintain ... just like the old days."
Follow him on Twitter » Ohm's chat archive »