NFLPA to use lockout fund for players

WASHINGTON -- Each NFL player who contributed to a lockout fund will be able to begin collecting up to a total of about $60,000.

Eligible players may start drawing from the fund April 15.

NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith said on March 18 that money was available to help players while they are not receiving paychecks during the lockout, which owners imposed after the collective bargaining agreement expired. Smith would not provide details.

The NFLPA sent players an email -- a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press -- to let them know its board of player directors "approved the payout from the Lockout Fund to begin on April 15, in six installments or until the lockout ends."

Players were instructed to fill out a direct deposit enrollment form attached to the email.

NFL.com first reported Tuesday about the NFLPA email.

The fund was created through player dues and rights fees during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, NFL.com reported. A player must have been on a 53-man roster for all 34 weeks of regular-season games during those two seasons to receive the maximum, according to the website.

The NFL Players Association dissolved as a union hours before being locked out by the league March 11. Now it looks toward April 6, when a lawsuit filed by 10 players requesting an injunction to end the lockout will be heard in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minn.

No ruling in the hearing is expected until mid-April at the earliest, an NFLPA source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter on Monday.

On Monday, current NFL players defended their right to disband as a union and file the antitrust suit, saying employers cannot force workers to unionize, and dissolution is "not akin to turning off a light switch."

The players made the statements in a court document filed in response to the NFL's assertion decertification was "a sham."

The players say that prior court decisions have made it clear the right of workers not to unionize is absolute. The players disclaimed their union, gave up the right to strike, to collectively bargain and to have union representation.

"The players sacrificed these labor law rights for one reason: to gain the ability to assert antitrust claims against anticompetitive restrictions imposed by defendants," lawyers for the players argued on Monday.

The NFLPA had advised its members to save their last three game checks from last season in case the 2011 season is canceled. Players are not being paid during the lockout and also are not receiving benefits, including health insurance.

Dennis Curran, NFL senior vice president of labor litigation and policy, wrote to agents in February, saying that under the federal law known as COBRA, players can continue existing medical coverage for themselves and their families for up to 18 months.

"The insurance can be paid for by the player or the NFLPA," Curran said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.

The NFL has not missed games due to labor strife since 1987, when the players went on strike and the owners continued the season with replacement players.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.