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Alienating fans a concern for union, owners as talks continue

NEW YORK -- Union executive committee member Brian Dawkins says he believes NFL owners and players have a sense of urgency to avoid a lockout because they don't want to alienate fans.

"I would think common sense would say at the end of the day, after all the fighting and after all the words are said, we understand who butters our bread," the veteran Denver Broncos safety said Tuesday. "That's where the urgency comes in at."

Dawkins and fellow NFL Players Association executive committee member Mike Vrabel alternated between optimism and expressing frustration with the league's proposals during a conference call about negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The current deal expires March 4, raising fears of a lockout. One major sticking point is the NFL's desire to go from 16 regular-season and four preseason games to 18 and two.

Dawkins and Vrabel said the league hadn't offered enough in return for what they believe will be shorter careers -- and therefore less money made -- with the longer regular season resulting in more punishment for players' bodies.

"I don't think with good conscience we could say, 'Guys, this is all we could get for you for 18 games. Go out there and strap it up and hope you make it through,'" said Vrabel, a veteran linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Dawkins is in his 15th season, Vrabel his 14th, but Dawkins predicted "these types of careers will be rarities."

The two veterans said they were heartened their fellow players have seemed more engaged in following the negotiating process than in the past. The cost of maintaining health insurance under federal COBRA law during a lockout has been a real eye-opener. For a family with two adults and two children, a player would have to pay $2,400 a month to keep his current coverage.

While encouraging members to save money, the union has set aside funds of $60,000 per player by raising dues and withholding royalties.

As a potential lockout looms, Vrabel believes fans can relate more to players than to owners.

"We don't have 32 players who have private jets in the NFL," he said.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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