NFL: Prepare for battle, NFLPA warns members

Jan 31, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; NFLPA president Eric Winston speaks during the NFLPA press conference in advance of the Super Bowl LIII where the New England Patriots will play the Los Angeles Rams on Feb. 3, 2019 at Mercedes_Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

By Steve Keating ATLANTA (Reuters) - Their war chest is full and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) said on Thursday it is telling members to prepare for battle, with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) set to expire in 2021. Sounding very much like a lockout by owners is inevitable, NFLPA President Eric Winston told a news conference ahead of Sunday's Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams that he had warned players to save their money and get into a gameday mindset. "They've got to know what they are up against, they got to know what's coming and they have to understand, just like in a game, the tactics that are going to be used against them and how to fight against it," said Winston. The current CBA was signed in 2011 after a 132-day lockout. It was a negotiation that players were widely seen as being on the losing side, and Winston indicated that the executive committee had learned its lesson. The NFLPA has "hundreds of millions of dollars in the war chest" and has made an effort to educate players, many of whom have never been part of CBA bargaining, about the negotiating process. "We're able to take the dues and put them away into an investable war chest for a work stoppage for that reason," explained Winston. "I'm not saying we are sitting here waiting for a lockout, hopefully down the road we can figure something out, but at the end of the day, to me, it would be malpractice if we weren't ready. "It happened before, it can happen again." Many of the issues that will be on the bargaining table are familiar: money, revenue sharing and player health and safety. Others are new, with the legalization of gambling, the use of medical marijuana and rules to cover player protests and their right to freedom of expression. Player protest has become a hot button issue for the league after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked controversy and gave rise to a movement when he took a knee during a game in 2016 to protest racial injustice and police brutality. League owners have struggled to find a solution for the issue that has divided fans. "The league instituted a policy in the offseason that wasn't collectively bargained and we made it clear to them when we filed our lawsuit to protect our players rights of free speech," said NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. "The league made the decision not to impose their rule and we made the decision to pursue our lawsuit. "CBAs are wonderfully dense things that have a lot of issues in them and anybody who is a member of a union and actually engaged in collective bargaining knows that it is one of the messiest, nastiest things you can do." (Editing by Peter Rutherford)