Unvested players neglected in new CBA

While we are all waiting for the NFL and NFLPA to work out the details of the Legacy Benefit, there is another issue that has not received much attention, but should merit some discussion and consideration: benefits for “unvested” former players.

First of all, we need to be clear on what it takes to become a “vested” player. You become a vested player when: 

  • you earn three or more Credited Seasons, including at least one credited season after the 1992 season;
  • you earn four or more Credited Seasons, including at least one credited season after the 1973 season; or
  • you earn five or more Credited Seasons

Why do we still have a vesting system that does not treat all former players equally?

The NFL Player Care Plan, now called the Former Player Life Improvement Plan (FPLIP), still requires ex-players to be vested in order to receive life insurance and assistance with obtaining joint replacements, prescription drugs, assisted living, Medicare supplemental insurance, spinal treatment, and neurological treatment.

Additionally, the Retirement Plan, Disability Plan, 88 Plan and the Long Term Care Insurance Plan still require vesting.

I would venture to say that thousands of former players had their careers cut short due to the injuries they sustained. Those of us fortunate enough to make it to our third or fourth or fifth season should reflect on these often quoted words: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

In my opinion, most former players would like to see something done for the guys that are not vested—especially the pre-1993 players.

On April 21, 2011, Major League Baseball owners and the MLB Players Association agreed to make payments to former players from the 1947 – 1980 seasons who didn’t qualify for the league’s pension benefit plan. Prior to 1980, only players with at least four years of service time qualified for a pension, but now under the new agreement, former players with one, two or three credited seasons will receive payments of as much as $10,000 for each of the next two years.

According to published reports, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said, “We are a family and this is simply the right thing to do.”

MLB Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner has been quoted as saying, “These are meaningful payments, and additionally meaningful because of the recognition this confers on this group of players. This was a long time in coming, but it’s important to stress that there was no legal obligation for MLB to discuss this issue. But I share [Selig’s] view that this is the right thing to do for the right reasons.”

If MLB and the MLBPA can find a way to take care of their unvested former players, then why can’t we? And where would the money for something like this for unvested NFL players come from?

The CBA has a provision called the Joint Contribution Amount:

“The Joint Contribution Amount shall be $55 million for the 2012 League Year, of which $22 million shall be dedicated to healthcare or other benefits, funds, or programs for retired players as determined by the NFLPA, $11 million shall be dedicated to medical research, as agreed to by the parties, and $22 million shall be dedicated to charities as determined by the NFL, including NFL Charities and/or Youth Football or successor organizations. The Joint Contribution Amount shall increase by 5% each subsequent League Year, and the allocation described in the preceding sentence shall be adjusted pro rata to reflect such increase.”

In other words, the NFLPA gets $22 million annually—plus a 5% annual increase—and can determine what type of retired player benefits, funds or programs we should be receiving. Over the term of the CBA, this will amount to $242,584,415 that the NFLPA will control and allocate as it sees fit.

The League also has $22 million annually that has been earmarked for youth football and charities.

Maybe the old saying, “charity starts at home,” should apply in the case of unvested players, and maybe it’s not too late for former players to influence the decision-making process on how these funds will be utilized.

In my opinion, the NFL and the NFLPA should follow the example of Major League Baseball and take a portion of the $485 million they have at their discretion and do something for the unvested former players.  At the very least, they should try to level the playing field and give everyone that has three credited seasons a pension or a lump sum payment like baseball did for their pioneer players.

It’s true, the NFL and the NFLPA have no obligation to do this, but like Bud Selig and Michael Wiener said, it’s “the right thing to do.”


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 September 10, 2011, in NFL Alumni News and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. They must take care of all guys that played in the league! If your body hurts from football related injuries! Get up and fight for what’s is only right!

  2. Is the Alumni’s “Campaign 2011” over? What is the Alumni position on trying to obtain needed benefits for unvested players – particularly those who suffered severe injury and disability as a direct result of their NFL career? The new neuro-cognitive benefit would have been a great start, but it is available only to vested players.

  3. Concil Rudolph jr.

    We are praying for a better plan

  4. Isn’t there supposed to be some amount of increase in pension benefits ln addition to this legacy fund?

  5. Excellent post, Jeff! It’s about time we started making this a top level issue.

    If the 3.5 year average career length is accurate, there should be more unvested men than vested…which is really the true and only intention of vesting, to create more men who don’t get paid, than men who do. The idea of getting rid of vesting is long overdue.

    And this Joint Contribution Amount in the new CBA has me feeling increasingly queazy…Jeff you underlined the part about all this new money designated for retirees would be distributed “as determined by the NFLPA.” But didn’t Carl and them prove yet again what we’ve all known for some time? The NFLPA does NOT represent retired football players! So why do we keep allowing the NFLPA to determine how our money is managed, applied, and/or distributed? I’ll tell you why…because when the owners have a meeting to talk about writing some checks for retired player benefits, the NFLPA is the only one that shows up. That needs to change.

    I know some guys that have a couple of pretty good ideas, and will be talking about this very point next May in Vegas at The Summit. Yeah, we’re going to do The Summit again. You guys should be there…I’m just sayin…

  6. IJeff, I had a teammate who was a great young safety ( David Webster) with the Dallas Texans…In his second or 3rd year he suffered a severely broken leg, tibia and fibula, and never could play again…… and he, to my knowledge, receives nothing…No way he should be left out! Chris Burford 60-67 Texans/Chiefs

  7. Excuse the initial extra “I”…creeping senility! Chris

  8. Thank you for your comments about ” The Unvested Players Neglected In The CBA.”
    There were alot of us who have injuries, career ending injuries Pre-1993 just plan left out of the equation.
    Shoulder / Knee ACL / Lower Back/ later Fusion Of C5-6-7 from compression.
    Please keep me posted on any new developments regarding Unvested Players Status. 76 / 79 Seattle/ 49ers
    They were put I.R.and after the season was over then cut!

  9. Jeff – can you please update us on the progress of talks on pension increases? Why is it taking so long to figure this out? Do you know what the hold-up is?

    And anyone who ever played an NFL game and was injured because of it should receive some kind of compensation.

  10. Jimmy Summers was an excellent cb/s drafted out of Michigan State by the Denver Broncos in 1967. He incurred an injury to his right shoulder that led to a ‘withering’ of the muscles in his rt. shoulder and an end to a promising career. I do not believe there was any disability insurance worth mentioning for the severity of the injury and its ‘life changing’ result. Any help from the NFL, NFLPA, or retired players to Jimmy Summers and others in a similar circumstance would be the ‘right thing to do’ in my opinion.

  11. It don’t think it takes 3 point however years to get a concussion. I think about my friend Jim Summers who was paralyzed in his first year but never recieved any help after his injury.

    What about the guys who refused to cross the picket line and didn’t make it to 3 point prove it to me vested years. I know guys who crossed the picket line and never would have been given a chance to play if it wasn’t for the guys who stayed loyal to the Union and were cut because of it. I don’t say we should have as good as baseball; football is a more popular and dangerous game, we should have better then baseball.

  12. Jeff thanks for at least bringing up the sad way players with 3 yrs but not the 4th year was left with nothing from the league. It has been said many players are use for 3 years and cut so they would not get vested . MLB has a family to be proud of. NFL hope you get lucky, if not you will get forgotten.

  13. The ‘vested’ players took it up the chute as well. There was no increase IF we make it to 55 either. Wasted movement.

  14. All players should have some pension if they played at least one full year in the NFL. There are players who went through at least one strike or was hurt dring his first season and was cut in the next couple of years and never vested. Why the players association can’t come up with something is a crime. The NFL needs to do what is right for all retirees.that have played at least one year. They are part of the team. Irv Goode,CARDS,BILLS, DOLPHINS

  15. Remember former college football players as well. So of us are hurting, too…

  16. Jeff- Marvin Cobb rekindled a glaring weakness that haunts all retired players represented by the NFLPA- no voice at either the bargaining table during CBA negotiations or the decision making think tank that determines the distribution of allocated funds to pre 93′ vested retired players. Since the establishment of the Legacy Fund, I have not heard one word regarding the disbursement of funds in either the print or electronic media. I strongly feel we should have at least 2 pre 93′ retiree representatives present at all future NFLPA meetings determining benefits allocated for us. Not having representation is an insult to our rank and file. I would be very happy having pro active retirees like Carl Eller and Joe Dellamelliure representing us in future endeavors. At least I know we would have a strong voice looking out for our collective best interests.

  17. College Football Players, in my opinion, will be forming a Union soon. Any Barristers out there? I imagine, my guess, that less than 50% of college football players do not receive a degree during their 4,5, or six years competing in football and in the classroom. They, too, will generate Billions of $$$ during their time at the colleges and universities,… ESPECIALLY after all the conferences are ‘reshuffled’ into 4 or 5 ‘super conferences’ and incorporate a playoff system to determine the National Champion. We live in a Capitalistic Economy in the United States. Universities have been complaining vigorously on their way to deposit the receipts into their bank accounts. The college coaches are much smarter than the players, demostrated by the coaches lucrative pay structures, while the players receive nothing…there, of course, are exceptions to my “no pay for players” remark. Look at all of the wealthy ‘amateurs’ in the other sports…Track is an example. Basketball, there is ‘Kentucky’.
    If you paid the football, basketball, baseball student athletes, perhaps more would stay in college for four years and actually study and earn a Degree.
    Unionized (and paid) College Athletics is a certainty.

  18. Jeff- I appreciate your comments. It is the right thing to do. Why have a pension plan that excludes over half of the players that make an NFL roster! Since less than half of the players that are on an NFL roster become vested, I believe the pension plan is significantly flawed. Further, if more former players become vested, more former players will become active in the issues of today. More people involved = more power.

  19. Yes, it is the right thing to do. I am praying that God will stir up their hearts to do the right thing. It’s really illogical, even ridiculous. Pre-1993 players played just as hard, if not harder, than the young players! Pray to God for His favor!

  20. Jeff,
    As you know, Both Bernie Parrish and I have been advocating for our unvested men for many months now. Many of them belong to the PA Retired Group, some to the NFL Alumni and others are not affiliated with either group. It is encouraging to see more people standing up for those men. Hopefully, Brent Boyd, Dave Pear and Robert Li will get onboard soon as well.
    It would make no sense at all for us to move forward with our battle leaving some 5,000 of our best soldiers behind.

  21. I have a good friend that played for the Bills for 3 years. I sure would like to see him get a pension. He hurt his neck and was advised not to play anymore, which was good advice, but 3 years should he enough to earn a couple hundred bucks a month.

  22. My season in 1977 and again in 1978 ended because of the fact I needed to have two total reconstructions of my left knee. The spinal injury I had was not thought to be real serious but as I aged I have had to undergo 5 major back operations that have robbed me off my ability to walk without a walker and if I need to go over 100 feet or so I need a wheel chair. But I am not vested I guess my injuries hurt less and my disability is not severe enough to warrant any pension money because my injuries happened so rapidly. ANY help would be much appreciatted.

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