LAS VEGAS - Retired football players angry with the NFL Players Association over disability and pension benefits said yesterday that the executive director of the union may be ahead of himself in seeking their support during upcoming contract talks with the league.

The informal group of former football players lashed out at comments made by NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, who said Saturday that if there is a lockout by owners in 2011, retired player benefits would be reduced by 80 percent while it lasts.

Several players meeting in Las Vegas about their problems with the union said their benefits are protected by law - lockout or not.

Smith also said Saturday at a meeting of the NFLPA Retired Players Organization in Palm Springs, Calif., that he represents all NFL players, active and retired. He wants the retiree groups behind the union in negotiations to extend the contract that expires after the 2010 season, with talks scheduled to start Wednesday.

"I think he might be putting the cart before the horse," said Marvin Cobb, a former defensive back who played 6 years in the NFL for Cincinnati, Minnesota and Pittsburgh, and won two NCAA national championships with USC in 1972 and 1974.

Cobb said Smith must understand the rocky relationship between the union and former players who feel it turned their back on them after they stopped playing football.

"Mr. Smith has quite a lot on his plate," Cobb said. "He may prioritize his to-do list differently than I would prioritize it."

Smith in March replaced the late Gene Upshaw, who often clashed with retired players over benefits and other matters. A spokesman for Smith did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment from the Associated Press.

Several former stars, including Hall of Fame members Mike Ditka, Green Bay's Herb Adderley and Buffalo's Joe DeLamielleure have been increasingly critical of the union's health benefits and pension plan, which pays some retired players only hundreds of dollars a month.

Cobb said he makes about $500 a month in pension and has had problems getting disability payments because he had to work other jobs.

"I think the verdict is still out on DeMaurice," Cobb said. "I don't know that we can trust him any more than we could trust Gene [Upshaw]." *