Union: Prepare for the worst

The guys who play the game apparently are getting serious about a potential year without football.

The NFL Players Association last week advised its members to prepare for a lockout the union expects in March and told players to save their last three game checks this year in case there is no season in 2011.

In a letter dated Wednesday, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told players, "It is important that you protect yourself and your family."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello called the union's stance "disappointing and inexplicable, especially for fans."

"We hope this does not mean the union has abandoned negotiating in favor of decertifying and litigating," he said.

Smith has said he believes the owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement in 2008 with the goal of locking the players out when the CBA expires on March 3.

The one-page letter on NFLPA stationery said thatthe union expected the lockout to come on March 4, and that players should work with their financial advisers to prepare for a lack of income.

It also said the league was planning to cancel the players' health insurance, an action the union said it would contest.

Under the deal agreed to in 2006, the players get 59.6 percent of designated NFL revenues. The owners opted out of that deal beginning next year, arguing they have huge debts from building stadiums and starting up the NFL Network that make it impossible to be profitable.

According to league insiders, the deeper reason is the growing split between the most profitable franchises and those in older stadiums in smaller markets. Jacksonville, Buffalo, San Diego, and St. Louis all have been mentioned as candidates to move to a higher revenue market such as Los Angeles or Toronto.

Fast fact

Since 2006 the San Diego Chargers are 18-0 in December.

What ails Indy

Maybe it's a hangover from losing the Super Bowl - seven of the previous nine Super losers failed to make the playoffs the following year, and six of those seven had losing records - but maybe it's deeper.

As Reggie Hayes of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel wrote, "This team has not been the same since management decided a shot at a perfect season was irrelevant last year. They lost to the Jets on purpose [or declined to win on purpose, if you prefer] last December, and they've had trouble winning ever since."

Last Dec. 17 the Colts beat Jacksonville, 35-31, on a Thursday night to go to 14-0. The following week (Dec. 27), coach Jim Caldwell sat most of his starters, including Peyton Manning, and lost to the Jets, 29-15.

Since that day, the Colts are only 8-8, including 6-5 this season.

History lesson

Of those seven Super Bowl losers who failed to make the playoffs the next season, the 2008 New England Patriots deserve special mention. The Pats lost Tom Brady on opening day, rallied around then-obscure backup Matt Cassell, and finished 11-5.

They were eliminated on tiebreakers and became the first team since Denver in 1985 to win 11 games and miss the playoffs.

Weird stat

Houston, the Eagles' most recent opponent, is the worst team in the NFL in giving up touchdown passes, having been burned for 27. The second-worst Eagles have given up 24, and the Cowboys - the Birds' next opponent - have surrendered 23.

Jets lose Leonhard

Jets safety Jim Leonhard was placed on injured reserve Saturday, ending the season for one of the team's defensive leaders a day after he broke his right leg in practice.

A stabilizing rod was placed through Leonhard's tibia during surgery Friday night at Morristown Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. He is expected to make a full full recovery as he had no damage to his fibula, ankle, or knee.

Contact staff writer Don McKee at dmckee@phillynews.com.
This article contains information from the Associated Press.