BRADENTON, Fla. — The NFL lockout has prevented Marcell Dareus from cashing in on turning pro, so he mows his godfather’s lawn in exchange for a place to stay.
Other rookies are low on dough, too. Von Miller sleeps in the same room he had in high school. Anthony Castonzo makes deliveries for his parents’ restaurant. And Aaron Williams does ranch work, throwing hay and fixing barbed-wire fences.
“Acres and acres of land; you’re always moving,” Williams said. “But it’s better than sitting on your butt playing Xbox.”
These are odd times for NFL rookies, and more than 150 of them gathered for a symposium sponsored by the players association that concluded Wednesday. This incoming class is unlike any other, because the lockout has indefinitely delayed that first pro paycheck.
“Guys are hurting for money right now,” said quarterback Christian Ponder, a first-round pick by the Minnesota Vikings. “It’s a crazy time, especially with the uncertainty of when we’re going to start and get some money in our pocket.”
To make the situation even more gloomy for players just out of college, the league is pushing for a rookie wage scale as part of a new collective bargaining agreement.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and players association chief DeMaurice Smith spoke to the group Wednesday but offered no indication as to when the 4-month-old labor dispute might end. Negotiations are ongoing, but with training camps scheduled to open in about three weeks, the season remains in jeopardy.
“You come out of college with plans of making big money, and everything goes on hold,” said Dareus, the third overall pick by the Buffalo Bills. “It grinds you.”
Dareus, a 320-pound defensive tackle from Alabama, said he earns his keep while living in Birmingham with his godfather.
“Everybody calls him ‘Sergeant,’ because he was a sergeant in the Army,” Dareus said. “At 6 o’clock in the morning, we’re up cutting grass. He ain’t playing. He’s crazy about keeping his yard cut. He has kind of a big yard. We cut it twice a week and trim his hedges. It’s an all-day thing.”
When asked if Sergeant provides a push mower or a rider, Dareus groaned.
“He’s old school.”
Dareus is hardly the only extraordinary athlete settling for an ordinary summer job. Castonzo, an offensive tackle drafted in the first round by the Indianapolis Colts, is living with his parents in Chicago and making deliveries for their restaurant, just like he did growing up.
He’s a bit bigger now, though.
“When I show up at someone’s door, a 6-7, 315-pound guy, they’re like, ‘Oooooookay. Put the food over here, please,’” he said with a laugh. “I make basically whatever they tip me. With my parents, I’m on a volunteer basis. I’m living like I’m still a college kid — there’s no money to spend.”
Detroit Lions receiver Titus Young is back with his parents, too. They live in Los Angeles, and because he played at Boise State, they appreciate the chance to see more of him lately — up to a point.
“My mom is rooting for the lockout to continue,” Young said. “But my dad is saying, ‘Get out of the house, son.’ He’s looking up the latest on the lockout every day and telling me updates.”
Miller and Ponder said they’re getting by in part because they made money doing rookie-card signings.
“I saved it up, because I didn’t know how long this lockout was going to be,” said Miller, the second overall pick by the Denver Broncos. “So I’ve got a couple of dollars in my pocket.”
And then there’s Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who’s taking the biggest financial hit of any rookie. As the top overall draft pick, he might have commanded $60 million guaranteed under the old labor system.
Newton was spotted Tuesday night in Bradenton grabbing a bite at a 7-Eleven.