Do former NFL players need any more programs or services?

By Jeff Nixon
Jun. 19, 2018

Dear Alumni:

Both the NFL and the NFLPA have produced resource guides that detail many of the programs and services that are provided to former players.

Click here to see the NFLPA online resource guide and click here to see the NFL Legends Community online resources.

The NFL and the NFLPA have showered former players with more programs and services than most of us will ever utilize. Unfortunately, these services do not help players in the one area that they need it the most; increasing the money in our pockets and letting us decide the best way to spend it.

Programs and services are great, but for those players that are currently receiving Retirement benefits, or have deferred them until age 65, the best way the NFL and NFLPA can help us in our twilight years is by giving us one last significant pension increase.

The money is there to do it!

Since the 2011 CBA was signed, the salary cap has increased from 120 million per team to 177 million per team. That’s a $1.824 BILLION dollar increase in the total amount of money that teams will spend on players this coming season. This increase is the direct result of more revenues coming into the NFL, and it won’t be stopping anytime soon. Commissioner, Roger Goodell has set a revenue goal of 25 billion by 2027.

As the NFLPA and NFL get closer to the next CBA negotiations, I hope the active players understand how they got to where they are today.

It didn’t happen overnight.

The chronology of labor battles since 1956 can be seen here. The historic 1993 CBA finally gave players free agency and the ability to shop their services to other teams. As a result, salaries and bonuses have shot through the roof. The average salary per team is anywhere between 3 million (Oakland Raiders) and 2 million (San Francisco 49ers). Click here to see the chart.

Last year 1,700 active players received around 5 billion in salaries and bonuses. This year the Salary Cap is close to 5.5 billion. The significant increase in salaries and benefits for active players is one of the main reasons there hasn't been a player strike in over 30 years.

On the other side of the table, the NFL owners are seeing their profits and the value of their team’s skyrocket. The league's overall revenue was estimated to be $14 billion for 2017. Each team, no matter what its record, received about $250 million from television revenue alone. Add in tens of millions of dollars from merchandise revenue, and a team has enough money for its entire payroll before a ticket is sold.

This is the true “Legacy” of former players – making things better for future generations of players and owners.

Almost all former players are good Ambassadors of the NFL. To this day, many of us are still helping the owners market the game in our communities, both through the work in our Chapters and in our direct involvement with NFL teams.

When I say former players are “making things better”, I also mean safer.

The Concussion issue was spearheaded (no pun intended) by former players and it has led to much better working conditions for active players. It includes, rule changes, equipment upgrades, safety measures and benefits like the Neurocognitive Disability benefit. This helps the active players……and also reduces the owner’s liability. The owners and the current players need to understand this when they sit down at the table and start dividing up the billions of dollars that will be coming into the League.

Make no mistake about it……improving active player salaries and benefits and increasing owner profits will be at the very top of their agendas.

The current CBA increased the active player pension’s three times. In 2018, the CBA will increase the pension benefit for active players to $760 a month per credited season. A vested player with only 3 credited seasons (2018 to 2020) will receive a pension of $71,655 at age 65. Not bad for only 3 years!

A player with 10 years (2011 to 2020) will have an annual nest egg of $201,453 at age 65. In addition to the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle Pension plan, they have two other retirement type benefits - the Second Career Savings Plan and the Annuity Plan - that will pay them billions long after their careers are over and yield them much more than the Pension Plan. You can read about those benefits here.

In the 1993 CBA, the NFLPA created the “Second Career Savings Plan.” The Plan currently has over 8,900 active participants and over $2 billion in assets. This is the best 2 for 1 deal in pro sports. For every dollar a player contributes to their own Second Career Savings Plan, the NFL Team must contribute 2 dollars - up to a maximum amount of $26,000 in 2018 and $28,000 in 2019 and 2020.

Under the Annuity Plan, which came into existence in 1998, a 10 year player could have as much as 6 million dollars waiting for them at age 65. They can take it in a lump sum or in monthly payments. I wrote about this at the following link: The NFL Player Annuity Plan: How Sweet it is!

Players that retired before 1993 have no Second Career Savings Plan, no Annuity Plan, no Health Reimbursement Account, no Tuition Assistance Benefit, no Group Licensing monies, no Five (5) years of free Medical Coverage after retirement and no opportunity to stay on the NFL's Group Health Insurance program after the 5 years are up.

The older generation of players know that we will never be included in the aforementioned benefit plans - and that's ok, but don't tell us the money is not there to increase former player pensions. We've heard that before and we know it's not true.

I’m not saying the NFL and NFLPA haven’t done some good things for former players. They’ve provided some modest increases to our pension plan and they've established the 88 Plan, Long Term Care Insurance, the TRUST, and the Player Care Foundation and P.A.T. (Player Assistance Trust) fund to help players in dire need. They also have a host of other services under the Former Player Life Improvement Plan. In my opinion, we don’t need any more programs and services, although we do need to preserve them in the next CBA.

Here’s the thing: A vast majority of former players that are still alive don’t need these services and don’t qualify for them because they're not in dire need, or don't have any major medical issues. So, the best way the NFL and NFLPA can help most former players is through the pension plan. The monthly checks that players receive can be spent on the things that we think will enhance our quality of life.

Programs, services, surveys, health screenings, seminars, hotlines, transition programs and counseling are all very nice, and they can help us offset the cost we would normally have to pay, but they don’t really help us pay the monthly bills or pay for the other basic necessities in life.

I want to make one thing perfectly clear: Former players are not “begging” for pension increases. We never have….and never will. We don't say that active players are begging when they negotiate with the owners for better pensions, do we?

What we have been, is strong advocates and - when pushed to the wall - plaintiff’s in a court of law.

Both active and retired players should continue to use litigation as one of the many tools in our bag. It has worked effectively in labor negotiations when the union has sued the NFL for violation of anti-trust laws. It has worked effectively in getting former players a $28.1 million settlement from the NFLPA over the Group Licensing issue and a $42 million settlement with the NFL over the use of our images. It also helped us obtain a massive Billion dollar settlement with the NFL over the concussion issue.

In closing, I want to say that most players are grateful for the increases that have been provided to pre-1993 player pensions, particularly under the Legacy Benefit. Nonetheless, we know that more can be done to help the older generation of players that were instrumental in building the League and laying the foundation for active players.

The wives of former Hall of Fame players have also stepped into the fray and have appealed directly to NFL management for assistance. They have met with League administrators and lawyers to advocate for a pre-1993 pension increase. In conjunction with that effort, Hall of Famer Tom Mack circulated a petition to former players asking for Pension Parity.

Although I support the Pension Parity Petition, I think the NFL and NFLPA should also look into the possibility of increasing the pensions of all vested players from 1993 to 2010. We need to remember that many of the players during this era did not receive the benefits I discussed earlier, because they only played for three or four years – the average for most players – and therefore they did not accrue much, if any, benefit from the Annuity Plan, Second Career Savings Plan, Tuition Assistance, Health Reimbursement Account, etc.

The NFLPA’s mission statement says, "We, The National Football League Players Association pay homage to our predecessors for their courage, sacrifice, and vision; Pledge to preserve and enhance the democratic involvement of our members; Confirm our willingness to do whatever is necessary for the betterment of our membership - To preserve our gains and achieve those goals not yet attained."

To his credit, the NFLPA Executive Director, DeMaurice Smith has enhanced the democratic involvement of former players and has given us a voice.

Now it's time for us to start raising it!