Atlanta Falcons’ 10-year veteran place-kicker Matt Bryant was working out at the Body Workz in Bridge City Monday morning hoping he’d be able to join his teammates when training camp opens as scheduled July 23.

However, for the past four months, there hasn’t been any activity for the 32 National Football League franchises because the owners have locked out the players while negotiations take place to work out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Negotiators for NFL owners and players are reportedly getting close to a settlement on how to divide a projected $9.3 billion in revenue. Players got about 60 percent under the old agreement, after owners deducted $1 billion for such costs as the NFL Network.

It appears to the average NFL fan that the lockout is a case of billionaire owners squabbling about sharing money with millionaire players.

But Bryant pointed out that just a small percentage of players actually are the millionaires and that most of the players try to make as much money as possible during the short span of their professional football careers.

Pro football contracts are not guaranteed like in major league baseball or most other sports, Bryant pointed out.

“A player can sign a multi-year contract worth several millions of dollars, but if the team’s front office releases the player, he gets nothing from that day on,” Bryant said.

Last month said that Bryant was frustrated that the lockout was lingering so long. The article stated that he should have had a contract long ago, but is still a free agent.

If a new CBA can be worked out this week, training camps would begin on time and missing the first round or more of preseason football games would be avoided. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Bloomberg News last weekend that preseason games are worth about $200 million in revenue each week.

Bryant has been in Bridge City to visit his mother and has been doing his regular exercise routine at the Body Workz in Bridge City, thanks to owner Mark Bland.

“I’m very appreciative for Mark to let me come here to work out,” Bryant said. “I’ve always lifted weights. I was a linebacker at Bridge City High School and probably still have a linebacker’s mentality.”

He told about when he was kicking off and got knocked cold making a tackle on an NFL kick-returner.

Bryant said he made another good tackle near the enemy sidelines in another game and thought he had suffered another concussion because everything looked lop-sided. He struggled to get to his team’s sidelines, took off his helmet and discovered that his facemask got bent making the tackle and that he was okay.

Although Bryant will be a free agent when the lockout ends, he said he really wants to continue kicking for the Atlanta Falcons. He was among the best kickers in the NFL in 2010, nailing 28-of-31 field goals and connected on 44 extra points. The Falcons have a high-potent offense and play the most indoors games of any NFL team and really want him back in 2011.

Bryant was one of the top field goal kickers to come out of Baylor University. After earning a B.S. degree at Baylor, Bryant interviewed several potential agents, with one telling him he should give it at least four years to make it to the NFL.

He came home and was able to work for a friend at KC Pawn Shop in Orange.

“I always carried a bag of footballs and my mechanical holder in my trunk so I could practice whenever I wanted,” Matt explained. “I would spend my lunch hour around the corner from work practicing my kicking at West Orange-Stark Junior High.”

Bryant began kicking footballs when he was just a tyke. His dad, Casey, would pick up the trash left by fans at a Bridge City junior varsity game on a Thursday night and Matt would be practicing his field goal kicking with a mechanical holder on the lighted empty field. Matt said his late dad was most influential in his kicking career.

“I negotiated my own contract with the New York Giants in 2002 and then I hired an agent. Unfortunately I didn’t survive the final cut, but then was re-signed two days later, giving my agent perhaps his easiest commission.”

“I was asked to appear on the David Letterman Show to kick field goals on the CBS rooftop in New York. I was kicking footballs at a building across the street and never really got to be with Letterman. I was really surprised two weeks later when I received a check from the Letterman Show,” he said.

“The Giants had a head coaching change two years later and I became part of the house-cleaning and was released.” Bryant recalled.

He signed during the 2004 season with the Miami Dolphins and then began his four-year stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under Head Coach Jon Gruden.

“Gruden was 100 per cent committed to his job and was always very focused on what he was doing,” Matt remembers. “He got fired right after he signed a three-year extension. I believe Gruden will return to coaching after this season when the money from his extension runs out. We are still very good friends.”

Bryant moved on to the Atlanta Falcons during the 2009 season and had one of his best seasons last year for Head Coach Mike Smith.

At 36 years old Bryant believes he still has between three-to-five good years left in his NFL career.

“I just want a chance to compete,” he pointed out. “I want to be the best and not just out there collecting a paycheck.”

During his spare time Matt enjoys playing golf. “I probably have a six or seven handicap,” he said proudly. He also enjoys boating. “I really fell in love with the water while playing in Tampa,” he pointed out.

“We plan to buy some property at Orange Beach, Alabama and live there after my playing days are over,” he said.

But right now Matt Bryant is anxiously waiting for the NFL lockout to end so he can get back to doing what he loves and does best—kicking field goals in front of 70,000 fans.

KWICKIES…Yao Ming, who only played in five games for the Houston Rockets the past two seasons and missed 250 games in the past six seasons with bone injuries to his ankles, has decided to retire from the NBA at the tender age of 30. He averaged 19 points and 9.3 rebounds in his career.

Pittsburgh Steelers star wide receiver Hines Ward was arrested Saturday night on a drunken driving charge in Georgia. The former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player and Dancing With the Stars winner is deeply saddened by this incident and apologizes to his fans and the Steelers’ organization for this distraction.

And not to be outdone, Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones was arrested a few hours later in Cincinnati on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct while intoxicated and resisting arrest. Pacman has had troubles away from football, including at least six other arrests and a dozen instances that involved police intervention.

Congrats to the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team for their upset victory over Brazil Sunday in the Women’s World Cup. After a 2-2 tie in regulation play the Americans beat Brazil 5-3 on penalty kicks to advance to the semifinals against France today (Wednesday).

The Houston Astros limped into the All-Star break after being swept by the Florida Marlins last weekend and losing nine of their last 10 games and 14 of 16. The Astros stand at a puny 30-62 and should be the first team in franchise history to hit the century mark in losses.
Lee Trevino was once quoted as saying, “I’m not saying my golf game went bad, but if I grew tomatoes, they’d come up sliced.”

JUST BETWEEN US…As expected, Derek Jeter became the first New York Yankees player to reach the 3,000-hit milestone. Jeter, 37, did it with flair, too, homering deep into the left field bleachers for his 3,000th career hit and also tied a career-best by going 5-for-5. He became the 28th major leaguer to attain that plateau and the first since the Houston Astros’ Craig Biggio did it in 2007. Jeter is the 11th player to get all 3,000 hits with one team.