Retired Players Need Clarity on Proposed Pension Plan Increase

On March 22, Roger Goodell met with the NFL owners in New Orleans. 

NFL Alumni Executive Director, George Martin was invited to speak to the owners and present the concerns of retired players.

After the meeting, Roger Goodell made the following statement about Mr. Martin’s message to the owners.

“This is the fourth time he’s addressed the ownership in the last year and a half or so, and he is a tremendous advocate for the men who played the game.  He makes that very clear.  You can hear it in the passion.  You can hear it in how strongly he feels about making sure we do the right things for retired players.  The ownership has heard from George four times.  Mike Ditka has addressed the ownership.  This is an important issue for us, and in the proposal that the ownership gave last Friday to the union, or 10 days ago, there were significant improvements in benefits for retired players, including a 60 percent increase in pension payments for pre-1993 players.  So there are some real things that need to be addressed.  The ownership continues to address those things outside of collective bargaining by improving some of the medical programs we have, but we need to, again, get into the negotiations and make sure we get those improvements done, and he wants to make sure that happens.”

The retired players are fortunate to have a strong leader like George Martin advocating for us, but as I mentioned in a prior posting, the owners proposal does not cover all the vested players that have at least one credited season before 1993 and it would help if Mr. Martin could get the owners to provide some clarification on exactly who would be affected by this proposed increase.

The owners say that more than 2,000 players would be getting a 60% increase, but that is a far cry from the 5,551 players that are vested and have at least one credited season before 1993.  

When they eventually get back to the table, the NFL owners and the NFLPA need to make sure they are covering all the players that played before 1993, not just those that are currently receiving pension checks.  That would be unfair to the former players that went on strike in 1982 and 1987 and are not yet collecting their pensions.  Those player strikes accomplished more than most people realize.  For the first time in the history of the NFL the Union was finally able to get full financial disclosure of all player salaries, which continues to be extremely helpful when players and their agents negotiate contracts with the owners.  We set the minimum wage scale which is still being used to this day. We were finally allowed second medical opinions on our injuries and we didn’t have to have the surgery performed by the team physician. We increased the Pension plan funding and we laid the foundation for what eventually came – anti-trust lawsuits that forced the owners to give us free agency in exchange for the Salary Cap!         

There are about 1,000 players age 45 to 54 that have not opted to take early retirement at age 45.  There are also approximately 500 players age 55 to 64 that have deferred their retirement and are waiting to take it at age 65 – because it almost triples.   

And what about players that took the Social Security election and are now receiving a monthly pension of less than $200 a month?  The Pension Plan saved a lot of money when these players made the unfortunate decision to take that “benefit”.  

In letter to the NFLPA and the League, Hall of Fame player, Ron Mix estimated that he has been penalized $68,000 by taking that benefit. 

A source close to the talks told me that when the owners asked DeMaurice Smith what the union would like to do for these men, he said he would not commit until an entire package that includes active player benefits and salaries is agreed upon.   

That’s understandable, but couldn’t he at least agree on what population of players would receive an increase?   

If the NFL and NFLPA agree to increase pensions only for the players that are currently receiving a pension, it could have the unintended consequence of enticing a large number of players to file for an earlier retirement in order to be eligible.  

Both Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith have told retired players that they want to increase pensions for pre-1993 players by “at least” $1,000 per month. 

Many of the players that have deferred their retirement until age 65 might decide to start collecting their pensions in order to be eligible for the “proposed” $1,000 monthly increase.  If these players did this, they would benefit immediately, but it would also reduce the payment they would have received if they waited until age 65.  

It’s time for both the NFL and the NFLPA to clarify their statements and tell us just exactly who would receive a monthly pension increase under each of their proposals.  They can work out the money later, but at this stage of the game, we should at least have a framework for who would benefit from a pension increase.   

Will they do that?  Probably not.  That way, if a CBA is signed and it doesn’t take care of all pre-1993 players, they can still point fingers at each other and blame the other side.  Retired players won’t know who is telling the truth because it will all be done behind closed doors.  

It’s known as plausible deniability – and retired players are victims every time. That’s because we can never get them to go “on the record” with their true positions on the issues that affect us………. like our quest to have changes to the NFL Disability Plan.    

Although retired players have pushed for specific changes in the current disability plan, no one really knows exactly what – if anything – has been proposed.  The things that would make the biggest impact on retired players;  things like eliminating the 15 year time frame for filing a claim for “football degenerative” benefits – hasn’t been mentioned even once in any of the press releases, bullet points, letters to the editors, or website postings that the NFL and NFLPA use to get out their message.  

This is a dirty, dark secret that hangs over the NFL and NFLPA like a fog that no one wants to talk about.  They see it…..they know it’s there…….but they just walk right through it like it doesn’t exist. 

It reminds me of the movie “The 10 Commandments” when the fog rolls into town to take the first born of every family that doesn’t have the blood sacrifice painted on their door. But in this movie………the fog is killing those that have sacrificed their blood at the doorstep of the NFL.  

Retired players need clarity.  We need the sun to shine down on the truth and the wind to blow away all the rhetoric about how much the NFL and NFLPA care about the pioneer players. 

It’s time for them to put their money where their mouths are.  

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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 23, 2011, in NFL Alumni News. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Will age of the Retired NFL Player be a factor in the additional Monthly Benefit paid? Assuming a 75 year old Retired Player’s Life span will be another 5-10 years vs a 65 year old who will potentially receive the additional Monthly Pension benefit for 10 additional years. Also one Retired Player told me that he was told that the Long Term Care Benefit was not available to Retired Players who are over 75.

    • Larry:
      As it stands right now, the proposed pension increase would only be for players that are currently receiving their pensions….. and from what I have been told, everyone would receive the same amount……. which they are saying would be about a $1,000 monthly increase. Under this proposal a player who is 55 would obviously enjoy the benefit for a lot longer than someone who is 75.

      It is also my understanding that the Long Term Care Insurance will only cover players 55 -75.

      • Jeff,

        I have always expected to work until 65 before taking retirement from the league pension. I may be working until 70. I suppose the league is simply trying to force us to take this small bump of $1,000 monthly because it saves them money in the long run? Their goal I suppose is to get us all out in the open and save the league from our waiting until we are 65. Please tell us that if this is going to happen someone in leadership with the NFLPA can negotiate a couple of financial instruments at a discount to us to put that money in since it is all we will get to maximize our return opportunity before we need it.

        Louis

        ’88-’91

  2. Thank you for asking some of the questions that all of us former players are asking. We are left in the dark about any of the current proposals. I am 57 years old, have not taken my pension, and assume that I would also have an increase in benefits. Am I right to assume that? Why can’t De Smith and the former players get on the same page when it comes to the amount of the increase demanded? What exactly does this Long Term Care benefit mean? Does it just qualify us, pay the premium, or arrange and pay for long term care? What good does it do if it is not there when we need it (after the age of 75)? What about premiums for ongoing health care insurance? These are only a few of the questions that we are confused about.

  3. Jeff,

    The owners portray their role as helping the pre-1993 players by offering a totally inadequate 60% pension increase which still leaves us 70-75% below MLB. The Director of the NFLPA declares a “fiduciary responsibility” to us as part of his “One Team”. Neither group addresses the changes John Hogan has put forth in what experts have termed an illegal NFL Disability Plan.

    Both sides need to realize the threat of serious and expensive litigation on our benefits and on anti-trust will only subside when they agree to fund our benefits commensurate with the degree of physical risk we undertook to build the League (and which is killing us at an accelerated rate).

    Both sides need to do the math. It is cheaper to structure fair benefits now than pay the litigation and eventual settlement costs and undergo the “stink” with Congress and the public that continued shafting of pre-1993 players will increasingly bring.

    Mr. Smith, we have already beaten your organization once, and as the jury stated, the issue was your organization’s violation of it’s fiduciary liability to us. Mr. Goodell the same thing goes for your side. You both are lawyers, pay the lesser tab now.

    Bruce Jarvis
    Buffalo Bills 1971-74

  4. Ralph Perretta

    Larry,

    The Long Term Care Benefit, as I understand it, ends at the age of 75.

  5. How in the heck could they not cover the vested pre-93 players who have not collected yet? What the heck are they thinking? I have 2 and a half years to reach 55 and they would leave me (and many like me) out of any increase? Unbelievable.

    In my opinion, putting this kind of offer on the table (only raising some guys pension and not others) is a way to try to divide the ranks. Divide and conquer. This is an old strategy that has been tried throughout history in wars to negotiations.

    Only giving the guys that are collecting increases is blatantly unfair.

    Divide and Conquer. Not gonna work this time.

    God Rewards the Fearless.

    Let’s get a voice and lets get a seat at the G-D table.

    And we need more people speaking up. Christ, this is your future.

    And I for one went along with the flow and looked in from the outside in other years of CBA’s. I can’t watch and let billionaires and millionaires tell me what I deserve.

    Adios from the land of feudalism.

    (Jim, just be quiet and perhaps you will get some scraps from the table)

  6. Jeff- I am a little confused referring to the term “vested” retiree. I was under the assumption that being vested in the Bert Bell-Pete Rozelle Pension Plan meant you must have at least 4 credited seasons. When I played(1967-73)you had to have a minimum of 5 credited seasons to qualify for a pension. How does a pre 93′ retired player qualify for a proposed pension increase if he is only credited for 1 or 2 seasons? It doesn’t meet the criteria for earning additional pension benefits, does it?

    • Tom:

      A former player must be “vested” in order to be eligible for the Pension Plan increases that have been proposed.

      In my article I talk about a “vested” player with at least one credited season before 1993 being eligible for the increase. What does that mean: If a player that is “vested” (has 4 credited seasons) and at least one of those credited seasons was before 1993 they would receive an increase in their pension.

      For example: Let’s say a player had a career that went from 1990 to 1996. That player is “vested” because they have 6 credited seasons. Due to the fact that at least one of his seasons was before 1993, he would be included in the group of players that would receive an increase in their pension.

      Another example: Let’s say a player is “vested” but he played from 1993 to 1996. He would not be included in the group, because he did not have at least one credited season before 1993.

      Does that make more sense now.

      Obviously there is confusion on who would be eligible for a pension increase and that is why we need the owners and the NFLPA to come out and explain “specifically” who would be covered under each of their proposals.

      We have heard both sides say the proposed increase would be for pre-1993 players. So what exactly does that mean? Does it mean that any “vested” player that started their career before 1993 would be eligible for the increase? If that is true, then approximately 5,551 would be eligible. As I said in the article, that is a far cry from “more than 2,000” that the owners have talked about.

      Does it mean that a player’s career must have ended before 1993? That would mean that a player that played from 1982 to 1993 would not receive an increase because he played in 1993. Hardly fair for someone that went through two player strikes!

      It appears that they are trying to limit the pension increase only to players that are currently receiving their pensions. That would be a travesty for those players that went on strike in 1982 and 1987 to fight for the what the current players now enjoy. A large majority of those players would receive nothing under the current proposal, because many are not yet collecting their pension.

      Under the current proposal, the owners would save money because if fewer players are covered in the increase, it would reduce the amount of their annual Pension Plan contribution.

      The active players would benefit because it would make more money in the overall pot available to them to increase their own salaries and benefits.

      Guess who doesn’t benefit…………2,877 “vested” players that have at least one credited season before 1993.

  7. Jeff,
    Thank you for your website. I want to verify that my previous rant was correct. If I had all of my seasons before 1993 and am not collecting yet, I am left out of any of the increases that were on the table, is this correct? Or am I not understanding this correctly?

    I sometimes lose my mind and say what is in my heart, which I cannot apologize for.

    Just for clarification, was I interpreting this correctly? Thank you.

    • Jim:

      The proposal that was submitted by the owners only covers the players that are currently receiving their pensions. You are not losing your mind, but the NFL and the NFLPA are losing their minds if they think retired players are going to stand for this!

      As I mentioned in the article, the owners tried to get DeMaurice Smith and the Union to agree to do something for all pre-1993 players, but the Union would not negotiate it separately from what the active players are trying to negotiate in salaries and benefits. It was an all – or nothing type of stance by the Union.

  8. I have three seasons credited, all before 1993. I am, therefore, not “vested”, in that I do not have 4 credited seasons. Is there any talk at all about trying to reduce the number of credited seasons needed in order to be “vested” for pension benefits? I had one year in the CFL and I get a pension from the CFL! Again, dividing the players on the “vested” issue is an old way of negotiating.

    • Richard:

      The NFLPA – the organization that says they represent you at the table – has not advocated for all players to be vested after three years. Why? Because that would take away money from what current players can give themselves in benefits and salaries. All of them are considered “wealthy” by today’s income standards.

      DeMaurice Smith says he serves retired players and active players.

      Here is a quote that I believe is pertinant to this situation.

      “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24.

      I typically refrain from using the bible to make a point, but there are some very good quotes in the book that hold true in both the religious and secular world.

      For the record, I don’t think DeMaurice Smith hates us or despises us, but, in the end he can only serve one master – the active players. If retired players aren’t smart enough to see that, then they will be fooled again.

      Without external pressure from some former players…….. nothing would be done to help the former players.

      DeMaurice Smith has compared former players that are not in lock-step agreement with the Union as “players that have crossed the line of player loyalty!” In other words “scabs”. That is really shameful and disrespectful coming from someone that never put on a NFL uniform and never walked a picket line.

      Does anyone think that the 215 players that were just “fattened for the kill” (at the 1 Million dollar shindig that Demaurice Smith held for them) are going to say a bad word about the NFLPA. Of course not, DeMaurice Smith has many of them beleiving that the real enemy is George Martin…… and that is really sad because anyone that really knows George Martin understands that he is fighting with all his power to get the owners to do the right thing. He has already taken steps to wean the organization off the tit of the owners.

      There are retired players that claim that he is a “shill” of the owners because he receives a measley 1.6 million from them. Some of that comes from licensing and marketing. What do those same retired players feel about the fact that the NFL owners give 1,700 active players approx. $43 Million annually to market them?

      If anything, the NFL should be giving retired players $43 Million annually to market 13,000 retired players. George is going after that money and with some time he will eventually get more for the Ambassadors of the NFL.

  9. Jeff, thanks for the reply. “Divide and Conquer” it is.

  10. Bob Simms NYG 60-61-62,Pitt 62

    Jeff, What is so special about 1993, in prespective of 80 years of NFL history and 9 Billion Dollars sloshing around in its coffers?
    As I understand it,players who have 3 credited years after 1993 are vested and treated entirey different than Richard Trapp and I and all the others who have 3 credited years prior to 1993.
    The confusion created by the classifacation is one thing but the gross inequity is stunning. Did we not play as hard and incur as many injuries building the business (for a lot less money)?
    I understand that the issue is not even on the table but sounds like an issue worth litigating. All the league needs are more lawyers involved in the process. If 140 of us are dieing each year,how many of us in the prior 93 category are still alive?

    • Bob:

      As far as I’m concerned, anyone that has even one credited season in the NFL should qualify for some type of pension benefit. Major League Baseball Players from 1982 and forward qualify for a Pension after only 43 days in the majors!

      They should at t least level the playing field and let everyone that has 3 credited seasons qualify for a pension!

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