NFL agents assume bigger role as lockout looms

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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.”

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