Locked-out NFL players deal with atypical offseason

Ovie Mughelli

Ovie Mughelli spent four years at Wake Forest studying to be a doctor. Had he known about all the legal issues he'd face during the current NFL lockout, he might have spent more time in the school's law library.

"The only people making money right now are the lawyers," Mughelli quipped. "The players aren't making any money, the owners aren't making any money, but the lawyers are."

Normally this time of year, Mughelli -- the Atlanta Falcons All-Pro fullback -- would be knee deep in offseason conditioning workouts, mandatory mini-camps and driving over to the team's training facility in Flowery Branch, Ga.

But when NFL owners locked out the players after the collective bargaining agreement expired in March, Mughelli had nowhere to go and a lot of time on his hands.

"I don't think people realize how much time football takes up in the offseason," Mughelli said. "They just see what you do during the regular season and think that's it. You get a little break after the Super Bowl, but once March rolls around, you start working out again and going over to the practice facility and meeting with your position coach."

In a normal offseason, Mughelli spends three to four hours a day working out and then a couple of more hours watching video and talking with coaches.

"It's a year-round sport," Mughelli said. "There's so much preparation that goes into a season. You're always tweaking things in the playbook and going over game plans. There's never really an offseason."

But with the lockout and the team's training facility off-limits to players, the former Porter-Gaud star admitted it's been difficult to get motivated about working out this offseason.

"There's no real incentive to get out of bed," Mughelli said. "It's easy just to roll over, hit the snooze button and stay in bed. You'd like to think at this point in your career you'd have some self-motivation, but no one knows when they'll sign a new collective bargaining agreement."

It has only been in recent weeks that Mughelli has started to work out with Atlanta wide receiver Michael Jenkins and running back Antone Smith.

"I was tired of sitting around the house, so we've been going to a local gym for a few hours each day," Mughelli said. "But you almost don't want to work out too hard, because if you get hurt, you've got to pay the doctor's bill. The team won't cover any medical costs."

When the lockout was briefly lifted a week ago, he was able to get to the Falcons training camp and pick up some of his things.

"I got some cleats, some workout clothes, some supplements, but that was about it," he said. "I wanted to get a playbook, but my position coach was out of the office."

But offseason conditioning and playbooks aren't the only issues in this lockout. Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap, like some players, was supposed to collect on a portion of his $1.23 million signing bonus on March 1.

He's still waiting.

"I didn't go out and blow my money," said Dunlap, a former Fort Dorchester High School star. "The Players' Association warned us this might happen and told guys to save their last couple of paychecks. I've got some good financial advisors, so I was prepared."

Mughelli is lucky. He's in the final year of his six-year, $18 million deal he signed with the Falcons in 2006 and has already collected his $5 million signing bonus.

"Besides getting a game check, the Falcons don't owe me anything right now. I know a lot of guys who are still waiting to get some of their bonus money. I've got a monthly budget that I stick to, so I'm in pretty good shape. I'm not the kind of guy that's going to go out there and spend extravagantly anyway."

Mughelli said he nearly laughed out loud when a letter circulated around the league seeking donations to help out players making the league minimum of $325,000.

"It's a pretty sad day when you've got to pass the hat around for a guy making more than $300,000," Mughelli said. "I know it's a tough economy, but I think we as players have to put things in perspective. Ninety-nine percent of families out there don't make that much money in a year, and guys have to learn how to take care of their money."

One of the few positive things to come out of the lockout for Dunlap is he's been able to go back to the University of Florida and take classes. Dunlap left Florida a year early and has two semesters remaining to get his degree in family, youth and community sciences, with a minor in business.

"It's been a blessing in disguise," Dunlap said. "It's important to me and to my family that I get my degree. I couldn't work out in Cincinnati, so I wanted to be productive with my time. I'm taking a full load of classes, so I'm getting closer to getting my degree."