NFL Benefits

Chapter 5 of When the Cheering Stops is on pensions and benefits that National Football League (NFL) players get. Below are excerpts and a look at the funded status of the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan.

Player pensions are part of the CBA and have become a bigger priority, thanks to intense lobbying by prominent former players. All vested players – those who played or were on a roster for at least three seasons – are entitled to a pension. The value of the monthly pension is based on the number of years played. But not all retired players are treated alike. In fact, there are two broad classes of retired players; those who retired before 1993 and those who retired after that year, even though many players’ careers spanned that year. From 1988 to 1993, the league and union were unable to reach a new labor deal. But when they finally agreed on a new contract, players who retired after 1993 were given bigger pensions, annuities, 401(k) accounts, and other benefits. Players who retired before 1993 were left with less lucrative pensions and few of the other perks. In the latest round of negotiations, which culminated in a new ten-year contract that was signed in March, 2020, advocates for the players who retired prior to 1993 argued yet again that they deserved a bigger slice of the pie. (page 64)

Many players today aren’t ready to fight to fund the pensions of the pre-1993 retiree players….The players get a finite amount of money each year, and any money they give to retired players comes out of their share. (page 65)

The average pension for retired NFL players now is approximately $46,000 ($760 per month for each season played)….In the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011, a “Legacy Benefit” was added to increase the size of the pension of older retirees to bring them more in line with current pensions. The increase amounted to an additional $108-124 per month.  (page 65)

In the new collective bargaining agreement signed in March 2020, players who retired before 1993 received a bump in their pensions. They will not be equal to players who retired after 1993, but it moves them closer to parity. And for the first time, roughly seven hundred players who played at least three seasons and retired before 1993 will secure pensions worth $1,650 a month. When they left the league, those players needed four seasons of service to qualify for a pension. Now, these players are in line with the requirements for those who retired after 1993. (page 66)

The plan’s latest 5500 fling shows a $4 billion shortfall.

  • Active Participants: 2,292
  • Retirees: 4,436
  • Separated: 6,997
  • Total Participants: 13,725
  • Assets as of 3/31/20: $2,397,635,581
  • Contributions for year: $136,005,179
  • Payouts for year: $156,622,749
  • Assets as of 4/1/19: $2,516,864,836
  • Liabilities at 3.08%: $6,408,881,170
  • Funded percentage: $39.27%
  • Unfunded Liabilities as of 4/1/19: $3,892,016,334

At 39.27% the plan is indeed woefully funded and could be lining up for a Hail Mary.

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