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Agents back players after mandatory meeting with NFLPA

INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL Players Association hosted its annual meeting for nearly 700 certified player-agents on Friday.

For the first time, due to the threat of the collective bargaining agreement expiring and a lockout lying just six days away, the meeting was mandatory, and the message delivered by NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith was clear: If you're not ready, that's on you.

"We want a deal and our hope is it will get done as quickly as possible," Smith said before entering the afternoon session of a daylong meeting.

One agent, via a text message, said: "He talked about the fact that since elected, he's been telling players to put aside enough money to last through the season, not just through September."

During the meeting, four of the most prominent agents emerged to provide a symbolic statement of solidarity and answer questions on where they and their clients stand with the threat of a lockout looming on March 3 -- a date they've been hearing about for two years. Ben Dogra, Tom Condon, Drew Rosenhaus, and Joel Segal emphasized that they're ready for what's ahead.

"There's unity among the agents, certainly among the players," Rosenhaus said. "There's great confidence in the leadership. There's a tremendous plan, should there be a lockout. I love the position the union is taking -- support the union 100 percent. We're behind De Smith."

Rosenhaus then held the Oakland Raiders up as an example to other teams, as one that hasn't tightened the purse strings in these uncertain times.

Another issue that arose in the meeting was the gray area that the rookie class working out here at the NFL Scouting Combine is in. All will be members of the union, but they aren't officially until they sign a contract, which can't happen until there's a new collective bargaining agreement.

That means those players won't be subject to looming lockout rules that will prohibit communication between veterans and coaches, clearing the way for coaches to attend pro days, private workouts and in-house visits at NFL team facilities. Dogra said his rookie class will be operating "business as usual" until the draft, and if there's a work stoppage still going at that point, they will reevaluate after that.

The meeting covered all of that, but started with a message on the ongoing labor negotiations. Dogra said he couldn't get into specifics on what was said because of the ongoing media blackout that's part of the federal mediation between the league and the union in Washington. Those sessions already went seven days and will resume Tuesday at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service before George H. Cohen.

"(Smith) laid out the ground rule," another agent said. "And that meant he would not talk about anything that happened in mediation."

When asked to characterize the last seven days of negotiations with a federal mediator, Smith declined to answer. He said "thanks" and briskly walked away.

The NFLPA also held a meeting with its executive committee members and team player reps Friday, with a big week ahead. Just as federal mediation resumes, the NFL owners will hold a meeting nearby in Chantilly, Va., on Wednesday and Thursday.

"We know we're going to play football in 2011, so our preparation has not changed one bit," Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak said Friday. "Like everyone else, if (a lockout) does take place, we'll adjust and be able to handle it."

The current CBA is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday night.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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