What does the collapse of CBA negotiations mean for retired players?

As I watched and listened to the NFL and NFLPA press conferences last Friday, all I could think about was how this would impact on retired players and our calls for a better pension, disability plan reforms and other benefits.  

From all the reports we were getting, it appeared that the two sides had come to some terms on the Rookie Wage Scale – with improvements to the pension plan – but we also knew that none of that really mattered if they couldn’t come to an agreement on all the other issues – the biggest one being how the 9 Billion revenue pie would be split up. 

I wonder if the Union and DeMaurice Smith had any intention of negotiating a fair labor agreement  – or was it their plan all along to fight this in the courts?

As a condition of extending the CBA talks, the Union demanded that the owners provide 10 years of audited financial statements by 4 pm.  That was the deal killer and they knew it. 

Writer David Haugh, from the Chicago Tribune said that if DeMaurice Smith showed as much interest in making a deal as he seemed to have in making history, perhaps we would be debating who got the best of whom in the new collective bargaining agreement.”  You can read his article at this link: Union chief’s ego gets in way as he overplays hand

So what does all this mean for NFL Alumni?    

The owners proposed an $82 Million annual contribution to the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle Retirement Plan that would have provided a 60% increase in pre-1993 retired player pensions.

The proposal would have ultimately affected about 5,551 former players. 

For most of the 2,674 players that are currently receiving pensions, this could have made an immediate difference in their quality of life.  For a player receiving a $1,000 monthly payment, an extra $600 in their monthly benefit would have been a godsend – especially in today’s economy.   

We’re not sure how the increase would have affected the 1,372 players that took early retirement, but we hope that in any final agreement, these players are not penalized again by the method of allocation that has been used in the past.  

Everytime the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to increase pensions, they’ve done it on a percentage basis and so the the players that took the early retirement – at a reduced amount – received much smaller increases in their pensions.  

Some players also took the social security option and as a result, they are receiving as little as $200 or less in their monthly pension.  A 60% increase would only result in an additional $120 a month for those former players.  Rather pathetic, wouldn’t you agree?   Something must be done to correct that injustice. 

Why are former players treated this way?    

Jason Keidel from CBS Sports made this profound statement regarding the breakdown in CBA talks between the NFL and NFLPA  What all of them forget is that their product was birthed by the sweat of their forefathers, from Halas to Rooney to Mara to Unitas; from John Mackey to Paul and Jim Brown to Vince Lombardi. 111 million people watched the last Super Bowl – a name bestowed our greatest game by another prescient ancestor, Lamar Hunt – on the backs of crippled men with no pension and no future. John Mackey must beg for a few bucks to get health care. Have you seen Earl Campbell lately? Mike Webster died homeless and helpless, living under a bridge. Dave Duerson committed suicide, presumably because of the aggregate blows to his head after a long NFL career. Tragically, these men are ignored.” You can read the full article at this link:  NFL lockout: The line between need and greed

It can’t be said any better than that!  

Retired players are concerned that the longer it takes the NFL and NFLPA to reach an agreement, the less money there will be for retired player pensions.      

On January 15, 2010 George Martin said “We appreciate that the owners months ago initiated a proposal to significantly increase pensions for retired players immediately in the current deal for 2010. This would get help to retired players this year even without the NFL and NFLPA agreeing to a new deal whether in spirit or in principle. I am told this increase would be $100 million starting out. This would be tremendous for retired players. I hope the union will consider this proposal, as it will benefit retired players immediately, while not impacting their task of negotiating a new long term labor agreement for active players.”

The Union did not seriously consider the owners proposal and even criticized Mr. Martin when they issued a statement from some former players – including Jean Fuggett, a past President of the NFLPA Retired Players Steering Committee stating “Individual owners and teams have spent exactly nothing on retired player benefits.”

That was a flat out lie.  If you want to see what the owners have spent on retired player benefits just click on this link: Retired Players Scorecard.  It is amazing to me that the NFLPA could actually find retired players that would be willing to circulate some of these falsehoods.     

The NFLPA currently has two (2) retired player representatives that have been at the bagaining table alongside the active player leadership. For those of you who are not familiar with them, they are Jim McFarland and Cornelius Bennett.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for both of them, but unfortunately they are co-signing the same misinformation that previously came out of the NFLPA.    

In a recent letter from DeMaurice Smith, Jim McFarland and Cornelius Bennett, they invite George Martin to attend the NFLPA Former Players Convention on March 22 – 24.  In preparation for the meeting they ask Mr. Martin if he would be prepared to discuss the NFL Alumni Association’s stance on several issues.  In question number 5 they ask if the NFL Alumni Association supports Congresswoman Linda Sanchez’s call for a Legacy Fund financed by the NFL clubs? They go on to say “As we have repeatedly brought to your attention since November 10, 2009 no NFL team contributes to a Pension.”  

There they go again…..recycling the same garbage that has been circulated over and over again.  Last year the owners contributed over $166.7million to the pension fund. Over $63 million was paid out to retired players currently receiving a pension. Here is a link to a copy of the NFL Player Retirement Plan.  Please go to Section 3 – Contributions, and read it for yourself.  It is the employers – the NFL owners – that make the contribution to the Pension Plan.  It is as clear as day, but that hasn’t stopped them from making this absurd claim.  The Pension Plan is collectively bargained, which means owners and the Union have to agree on how much to contribute. In the last CBA, both sides agreed that if the owners opted out of the CBA early, they would not have to make any additional contributions to the pension for current players and that is a good reason to get back to the table. Nonetheless, they still have an obligation to continue funding the plan for all players that have qualified for a pension.

By the way, George Martin has already gone on the record in support of a Legacy Fund. The owners asked the NFLPA to split the cost of the fund, but the Union said no to a $16 million contribution. One question that isn’t asked in the letter is “Do you support a Rookie Wage Scale with a $100 Million contribution to pre-1993 player pensions?” The NFL Alumni supports that proposal. Does the NFLPA?

Make no mistake – it is the NFL owners and the Retirement Board who are “liable” for making adequate contributions to the plan on an annual basis, whether we have NFL football next season or not!  That’s a good reason for the owners to get back to the table too!

It would be interesting to know what Jim McFarland and Cornelius Bennett feel about the recent breakdown in negotiations and how they think it will effect our calls for an increase in retired player pensions, please send them an email and ask them.

Cornelius Bennett:   ckbennett97@aol.com

Jim McFarland:        jimmcfarl@aol.com


About Jeff Nixon

Jeff was a first team consensus All-American from the University of Richmond in 1978. He is 7th in NCAA history with 23 career interceptions. Played for the Buffalo Bills 1979-1984. Led the team with 6 interceptions in Rookie Year. Holds Bills record for 4 takeaways in a single game - 3 interceptions and a fumble recovery. Tied Bills record with four consecutive games with an interception. After 5 knee surgeries Jeff retired from pro football in 1985. He worked for 13 years (1988-2000) as the Youth Bureau Director for Buffalo and Erie County. He has worked for the past 11 years as the Youth Employment Director for Buffalo. Plays guitar and was voted best R&B guitar player by Buffalo Nightlife Magazine in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Posted on March 14, 2011, in NFL Alumni News. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Jeff,

    The game of football subjected all of us to physical risks several times baseball which we are all paying for, yet the MLB pension is several times ours.

    The question we all need to have answered is : Why should the men who took the risk to play football NOT be entitled to retirement benefits SUBSTANTIALLY GREATER than baseball or basketball.

    60% increase? Please do the math…on a percentage basis the owner’s proposedpension (disability, medical?) remains 70% less than baseball. Why? Your blog is an important information conduit

    • (continued) and as I have said before, 60% of the current low level is still way too low.


      Bruce Jarvis

      Buffalo Bills 1971-1974

      • Bruce:

        I agree with you. A 60% increase based on the current amounts former players receive is still too low. Unfortunately, the NFLPA does not even want to provide that for retired players. They have continued their quest for a Legacy Fund that would only put $32 million into the pension. We don’t see any indication that they are serious about a Rookie Wage Scale that could boost the Pension by $100 million annually. They would only agree to a hard cap that would still allow Rookies to get enormous bonuses like the 50 Million that Sam Bradford got last year. You can bet Tom Condon and some of the other high power player agents had something to do with that.

  2. Jeff: Encourage you to come to the NFLPA Retired Players Convention next week and ‘air it out’ with your concerns and ideas. As past President I will request you be given some time at the podium for that. I follow your postings and appreciate you and your interest in our fellow retired players.

    • Doing my time of playing in the NFL no one told me that they wood trun there backs on me and Just walk away. I have so much pain doing a every day deal playing NG for SIX year in the NFL i did enjoy but the body is so bet up that i don’t look forword to Tomorrow,evertday is a bad day for me.Just keep on putting up with the pain.We all need a better Pension plan reforms and other Benefits and Disability walking dead.

  3. This sounds like you’re doing PR for the owners. What next? Are you going to say how good they’ve been to us? We have had to fight for everything and the owners haven’t done anything that they have not be forced to do including contributions to the pension plan. In addition, I don’t trust the NFLPA either as Upshaw said in the past, “I don’t represent the retired players,” and it shows as we look at our benefits. I was on strike in ’87 and the players who benefited from our walking the picket line and losing our salary weren’t in the league yet. Both the owners and the NFLPA have done the pre-93 players an injustice which needs to be corrected and there is no misinformation involved there.

    • The owners are businessmen and as such, they will always look at their bottom line. Nonetheless, it is important for all retired players to remember that it was the NFL Commissioner that said “there will be no agreement without improvements for retired players”. The NFLPA has never made that statement. In fact the NFLPA Retired Player Director, Andre Collins told former players “the NFLPA can only increase benefits with new money. No new money means no pension increases and no new benefits!” First of all, that statement is not true. The NFLPA can increase pensions and benefits even without “new” money, but that might mean a corresponding reduction in active player salaries or benefits. That puts DeMaurice Smith in a tough situation and that is why he is trying to get the owners to fund the Pension (Legacy Fund) with new money. DeMaurice Smith likes his job and he knows who butters his bread – active players.

      Also, it should be noted that the NFL owners proposed an immediately increase in former player pensions during CBA negotiations – not the NFLPA. The NFLPA countered with its own proposal and told the owners that they would only agree if the CBA were extended for two more years. Early on, the owners were willing to do this whole deal “outside” of the CBA negotiations. I know the devils in the details, but it sure looks like the owners were being guided by their better angels while the NLPA was the devil on my shoulder whispering in my ear that owners are in allegiance with Satan.

      The owners and the players need to get back to the bargaining table and get this worked out.

  4. C’mon jeff–“improvements”—to what magnitude? De Smith isn’t talking to any of us. He sends out his “paid help” to conduct orchastrated charades. He believes that because of his big-time Dem Lobbying Firm backgound and his long ExecutiveOffice reach that he can discern as to which Congressmen have power and which ones do not and he has chosen to ignore and dismiss the 3 that have asked that he meet with G. Martin. Ain’t gonna be no damn meeting cause he could give a care less. Damn George Martin, the 3 Congressmen, damn Mike Ditka, and anybody else who is not a current player is what Mr. De is saying. Don’t wanna hear a damn thing from pre93ers.

  5. Nfl players are eligible for pension benefits with three years of service credit after ‘1993. Why isn’t the union pushing to change the requirement so that all former players would qualify for benefits with three-years of service credit? Why isn’t the NFL Player’s Alumni Association voicing its objection to this requirement? They’re over 1,000 former players that would qualify for benefits if the four-year restriction were removed!

    Thank you, for you’re consideration in this matter. A timely response would be appreciated.

  6. http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/NFLPA-DeMaurice-Smith-NFL-Aumni-George-Martin-to-meet-031811

    FOX Sports Exclusive
    NFLPA, retired players chief to meet

    Updated Mar 18, 2011 11:13 PM ET
    The NFL’s retired players are making more progress in mending fences than the current ones during this time of labor strife.
    FOXSports.com confirmed that NFL Alumni executive director George Martin has accepted an invitation to attend NFLPA meetings focused on veteran players next week in Marco Island. This breaks the cold war between Martin and DeMaurice Smith that the former has alluded to in public criticism of the NFLPA’s executive director. [ARTICLE CAN BE FOUND AT THE URL LISTED ABOVE]

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