NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith

A labor union representing National Football League players called Tuesday on its clients to better prepare themselves ahead of another potential high-stakes legal battle with the league.

The two sides signed a 10-year collective bargaining agreement in 2011 after an acrimonious antitrust fight that led to a five-month lockout of NFL players. With the expiration of that deal now looming on the horizon, executives with the NFL Players Association are urging their gridiron rank-and-file to begin making financial preparations to help head off another work stoppage. And the Washington, D.C.-based union also has more than a few high-powered lawyers at its disposal.

Five Am Law 100 firms billed the NFLPA for legal fees during its most recent fiscal year, according to an annual LM-2 filing made by the union with the U.S. Department of Labor before the Memorial Day weekend. Winston & Strawn, which took in nearly $4.5 million from the NFLPA during its last fiscal year, once again took the top spot with more than $1.91 million in billings for the organization in the one-year period between March 1, 2016 and Feb. 28, 2017.

Winston & Strawn, whose co-executive chairman and antitrust leader Jeffrey Kessler has been a longtime legal adviser to the NFLPA, handled collective bargaining matters for the NFLPA last year. The union’s LM-2 states that it paid another $752,903 to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher for collective bargaining counsel. Gibson Dunn appellate litigation maestro Theodore Olson worked with Kessler in advising the NFLPA and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in his unsuccessful appeal of a four-game suspension for his role in the league’s so-called Deflategate scandal.

Other firms on the NFLPA’s payroll last year include Philadelphia-based Willig, Williams & Davidson ($78,557); Baker & Hostetler ($27,706); Norton Rose Fulbright ($18,449); San Francisco’s Altshuler Berzon ($17,379); Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton ($13,446); and Washington D.C.’s Trister, Ross, Schadler & Gold ($9,736) and the Groom Law Group ($7,529).

The NFLPA counts on its books an $11,193 loan to Sperduto Thompson, a Washington, D.C.-based litigation boutique to which it leases office space in the nation’s capital. Sperduto Thompson’s website states that name partner Kim Sperduto represented the NFLPA in antitrust litigation with the NFL.

The NFLPA’s LM-2 shows that its executive director, former Patton Boggs and Latham & Watkins partner DeMaurice Smith, took home nearly $2.7 million in compensation last year. The union has a robust in-house legal staff led by general counsel Thomas DePaso ($729,318); associate general counsel Heather McPhee ($391,752) and Ned Ehrlich ($351,976); staff counsel Sean Sansiveri ($281,303), Todd Flanagan ($211,782), Joe Briggs ($198,242) and Caroline Gottschall ($121,278); and associate staff counsel Sophie Gage ($77,117).

Former Patton Boggs partner and COO Ira Fishman received $832,828 in his role as managing director of the NFLPA, while deputy director and former Latham associate Tuaranna “Teri” Patterson was paid $333,250. Ex-Latham and Patton Boggs associate Ahmad Nassar received $455,870 in his role as president of NFL Players Inc., the union’s licensing and marketing arm. All three lawyers worked with Smith at their previous firms.

The NFLPA’s LM-2 states that Smith, a resident of Bethesda, Maryland, also received $67,400 worth of Super Bowl tickets earlier this year. The thrilling Feb. 5 game in Houston saw Brady and the Patriots pull off a 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Richard Berthelsen, the NFLPA’s longtime former general counsel and onetime interim executive director, received $7,244 last year from the NFLPA. (The union paid $118,254 to Berthelsen in 2015-16 for consulting work.)

According to a database maintained by the NFLPA, lawyers from several large firms are listed as registered player agents.

The group includes Arent Fox associate Warren Seay Jr. in Washington, D.C.; Bradley Arant Boult Cummings partner Troy Carnrite in Tampa; Butler Snow partner James “Jay” Bolin in Ridgeland, Mississippi; Cole Schotz partner Gary Leibowitz in Baltimore; Gibbons partner William Deni Jr. in Newark, New Jersey; Holland & Knight associate David Lisko in Tampa; Kutak Rock partner James “J.R.” Carroll in Fayetteville, Arkansas; Norton Rose Fulbright partner John Simpson in Washington, D.C., and Roetzel & Andress associate Marcus Pringle in Cleveland.

The NFLPA’s agent registry is also well-stocked with former Am Law 200 lawyers, including former Stinson Leonard Street partner Robert Lattinville in St. Louis; ex-Jones Day partner Dean Calloway in Atlanta (where he’s now an in-house lawyer at car dealership giant Asbury Automotive Group Inc.); ex-Weil, Gotshal & Manges associate Paul DeRousselle in Dallas; and Adisa Bakari, a former chair of the sports and entertainment group at Kelley Drye & Warren in Washington, D.C., until launching his own agency last summer. (ESPN’s The Undefeated profiled Bakari’s now independent sports practice in April.)

Earlier this month, USA Today reported that the NFLPA had set up a reserve fund for players in case of another league-imposed work stoppage. The NFL gave up its nonprofit status last year. In the last year for which public tax records are available, the league paid millions in legal fees to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Covington & Burling and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, according to our previous reports.