NFL Player Retirement plans: There's more than one!

By Jeff Nixon
Dec. 03, 2015

In 1983, former Oakland Raider Gene Upshaw became the executive director of the NFLPA. Until his death in 2008, he oversaw a player strike, several antitrust lawsuits, and the historic collective bargaining agreement of 1993 that finally gave players the free agency we so desperately sought. It didn’t take long before player salaries began to shoot through the roof. Today the average annual salary is over 2 million dollars.

Player bonuses have also grown exponentially, to the point where the average amount of guaranteed money paid out to only 1,700 NFL players is over 2 Billion – annually!

During his tenure, Gene Upshaw negotiated benefit packages that helped specific groups of players, and even though there were some modest increases to pre-1993 player pensions, most of the new benefits and increases were for players that came after 1992. 

Gene Upshaw knew that the best way to get re-elected was to butter the bread of the active players. He made that especially clear when he was quoted in the Charlotte Observer telling former players, "The bottom line is, I don't work for them. They don't hire me, and they can't fire me. They can complain about me all day long. They can have their opinion. But the active players have the vote. That's who pays my salary." He made those comments after hearing Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure’s complaints about the sad state of the pre-93 player pensions. 

It didn’t help matters when former players found out that Upshaw had a 15 million dollar deferred compensation benefit package with the NFL Players Association. 

So, while Upshaw was telling former players that there was no way he could make former player pensions anything like the active player's pensions, he was busy stashing cash for himself and then creating new retirement type benefits for the active players instead of putting it into the Pension Plan and spreading it out to all players. 

In the 1993 CBA, Upshaw created a benefit known as the “Second Career Savings Plan.”  According to the most recent 5500 form that was filed for the period ending March 31, 2014 the plan had assets totaling 1.6 Billion. 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. From 2011-2014 the maximum Club contribution was $24,000, for 2015-2018 the maximum is $26,000 and for 2019-2020 the maximum will be $28,000.        

In 1998, Gene Upshaw and the NFLPA created another retirement type benefit known as the “Annuity Plan.”  According to the most recent 5500 form that was filed for the period ending December 31, 2013, the plan has assets totaling 1 Billion. This benefit is even better than the Second Career Savings plan because there is no player contribution.  A player will begin to receive NFL owner contributions of $65,000 every year beginning with their fourth credited season. From 2011-2013, each eligible player received $65,000 per year. From 2014-2017, each player will receive $80,000 and from 2018-2020 each player will receive $95,000 per year. Sweeeeeet!

That’s a total of 2.6 Billion in assets in those two retirement type plans alone!  You can read all the specifics about these plans and other benefits in the NFLPA Benefits Booklet here

Like Gene Upshaw, DeMaurice Smith - the current Executive Director of the NFLPA - also understands who pays his salary. The current CBA, negotiated by Smith and the NFL Players Association, increases the Pension Plan three times – going from $470 per credited season to $560 (2012-2014), $660 (2015-2017), and $760 (2018-2020). Meanwhile, most of the pre-1993 vested players continue to be stuck at $250 per credited season plus $108 (Legacy benefit) for a grand total of $358 per credited season. For players that are still alive and had credited seasons before 1975, the Legacy benefit gives them a whopping $16 more per credited season,  bringing their total to $374 per credited season.  

I think I can speak for most players when I say that we do appreciate the increases that have been made to pre-1993 player pensions – particularly via the Legacy Benefit. Nonetheless, we know that more can be done, and this coming Tuesday, December 8, 2015 the wives of Hall of Fame players are scheduled to meet with representatives of the NFL to talk about providing some parity to the pension plan. Gerri DeLammielleure - Joe D's wife, is one of the organizers of the meeting. 

In closing, I want to correct a terrible oversight in one of my last postings. I recently thanked a number of groups and individuals that have been instrumental in advocating for better pensions and benefits, but I forgot to mention Joe DeLamielleure. I’ll chalk it up to all those sub-concussive blows to my brain that I accumulated all the way from pee wee to the pros. I have added Joe D to the original article which you can read here

You can also read about Joe and Gerri in this tremendous article written by Matt Crossman and posted on the Charlotte Magazine website here

Joe and Gerri DeLamielleure

Let's all hope that the wives of the Hall of Fame players can convince the NFL and the NFLPA - once and for all - that it's time to take care of the older players that forged the way for current players and helped the NFL and NFLPA build the foundations for the greatest and most lucrative game on earth.  

They say we are the Legacy and the Legends..............and now they have a chance to prove it.