ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With negotiations still at a standstill, the NFL players union is going to start preparing for the possibility of having its health care cut in March.
During an appearance with Minnesota Vikings fans on Tuesday, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said he was working to figure out a plan to ensure medical coverage for players and their families should they be locked out by the owners.
Smith said he is dealing "with players where some of them have children who need heart transplants. We have several players who have children who are on kidney dialysis. We will have over 100 players who will have children who are born in the March, April, May timeframe. Right now all of those players need health insurance."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said it's one more reason to reach an agreement. He also pointed to the federal COBRA law that allows employees to continue their existing coverage without interruption at their own expense or the expense of their union.
"This means that no player or family member would experience any change in coverage for so much as a single day because of a work stoppage," Aiello told The Associated Press in an e-mail. "The union surely knows this and there is no excuse for suggesting otherwise."
During the NHL lockout in 2004-05, the NHL players' union paid for substitute coverage.
That will be one of several options the union will consider as it continues to prepare for a lockout.
NFL owners spoke in optimistic tones at their fall meetings last week in Chicago, with many saying they believed a new deal could be reached without a work stoppage. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he wanted to get something done by the holidays and NFLPA President Kevin Mawae echoed that desire.
But Smith spoke a little less glowingly on Tuesday.
"From a seriousness standpoint, the players believe this lockout is going to occur," Smith said.
Teams throughout the league, including the Vikings on Monday, have voted to decertify the union in the event of a lockout, a procedural move that would give the union a chance to sue under antitrust laws if there is a lockout. Without decertification, the union would have to wait six months to file a suit after the collective bargaining agreement expired.
So far 16 of the 32 teams have voted to decertify, a trend that NFLPA officials say will continue in the next few weeks.
"When the players say that if we get to March and you are going to force us into a lockout and we are going to consider our options, that's not aggressive," Smith said. "That's simply acting in a way to defend yourself."
Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards said he and many of his teammates have been saving their money to prepare themselves if the paychecks stop coming. Edwards has taken up boxing as a fallback plan.
"You've got to prepare for the lockout," Edwards said. "It's more than likely there's going to be a lockout, so we have to start preparing as if we're not going to be playing football."