With signing bonuses escalating at an exponential rate and with NFL teams evidencing more and more of a willingness to renegotiate with their younger players and lock them into long-term financially lucrative deals, one can conclude that life as an NFL player is good. When the extensive multitude of NFL player benefits is also taken into account, the reality is that life as an NFL player is even better.
The most important benefits received by an NFL player are those benefits accruing under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement’s (“CBA”) post-career financial plan. The key term for determining eligibility and corresponding benefit amounts under the post-career financial plan is “credited season.” Under the CBA, a credited season is defined as any season in which a player is on (i) the active roster, (ii) inactive list, (iii) injured reserve or (iv) physically unable to perform – football list for at least three regular season or post-season games. (For comparison, please note that for purposes of determining eligibility for free agency, the relevant term is “accrued season,” or a season in which a player is on one of the aforementioned lists for at least six regular season games.) The post-career financial plan is comprised of the following four categories: (i) Severance Pay Plan, (ii) NFL Player Annuity Program, (iii) NFL Player Second Career Savings Plan and (iv) Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan.
Under the Severance Pay Plan, if a player is released by a team and has two or more credited seasons in the league, he will receive termination pay of $20,000 per credited season. Under the NFL Player Annuity Program, a player with four or more credited seasons in the league is eligible to receive a $80,000 annuity program contribution from which he can begin receiving annual distributions at the age of 35, or five years after his last credited season in the league (whichever is later). Under the NFL Player Second Career Savings Plan, a player with at least two credited seasons in the league can contribute up to a maximum of $26,000 in pre-tax dollars per year to one of nine different investment funds and receive a matching team contribution of $2 for each $1 the player contributes to a plan (the team can contribute up to a maximum of $52,000 per year). Upon retirement, the player will be able to withdraw money from this plan at the age of 45. Under the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan (or NFL pension plan), a player will earn a benefit credit of $660 for each credited season he has played in the league. Upon retirement, the amount of money a player will receive each month at the age of 55 will be equal to the sum of all benefit credits earned (i.e., a player who retires with three credited seasons will receive a monthly payment of $1980 starting at the age of 55 -- $660 x 3 credited seasons).
In addition to these programs, the current CBA also provides extensive injury protection and disability benefits. These benefits provide financial payouts and assistance to players who are rendered disabled by injuries suffered as a result of football-related and even non-football related activities while an NFL player.
In addition to ensuring a player’s post-career financial viability, the CBA also provides comprehensive insurance benefits for a player during his playing career. Insurance benefits can be broken down into three different categories: medical, dental and life. With regards to medical coverage, 100% of all in-network medical costs are covered for a player and his dependents. The annual deductible for medical insurance is $600 per player and $1200 per family and coverage will now extend beyond a player’s playing career with extended post-career medical and dental benefits up to a maximum of $500,000 annually per NFL team. Regarding dental coverage, 100% of all preventive dental care (exams and cleanings) is covered along with 85% of general services and 50% of major services. The annual deductible for dental coverage is $50 and there is an annual maximum benefit of $2000. With reference to life insurance, NFL rookies receive coverage of $600,000 at no cost while the annual coverage increases by $200,000 per credited season for veterans up to a maximum coverage amount of $1,600,000. One interesting, lesser known aspect of medical and dental coverage under the CBA is that vested NFL veterans (players with four or more accrued seasons in the NFL) will receive ongoing coverage for up to five years after the season in which they are released or retire from the NFL (they are covered through the end of their final season as well).
Another often overlooked yet significant benefit of being an NFL player is the annual royalty check derived from the Players Inc. group licensing agreement. Players Inc. is the licensing arm of the NFLPA and under its group licensing agreement, an NFL player will receive an annual royalty check simply for being a member of the NFLPA. In 2011, the royalty check per player was approximately $12,000.
Living life in a fishbowl is one of the inevitable consequences of being an NFL player. In order to protect the security and well-being of all NFL players and their families, NFL Security offers its services free of charge to all NFL players. In each NFL city, NFL Security employs a full-time security liaison, often times a retired ex-chief of police or other high ranking law enforcement veteran. The role of the security liaison is to act in accordance with local law enforcement officials and the office of NFL Security to research, analyze, evaluate and neutralize any potential and/or actual security concerns, issues or threats (overzealous fans, home security, due diligence on local business and investment opportunities) that may arise throughout the course of an NFL player’s career.
All work and no play is no fun, so in order to allow NFL players and their families to more easily enjoy their free time and the fruits of their labor, the NFLPA recently entered into an arrangement with Celebrity Personal Assistants, Inc., a nationwide, personal concierge service. Under this free service, a player can call a toll-free number, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and set up travel, dining and entertainment arrangements nationwide. For example, within minutes of a player’s request, Celebrity Personal Assistants will have the player booked at a five star hotel with reservations at the finest restaurant in town and with front row seats to a show or sporting event of his choice. The concierge service is ideal for setting up long weekend getaways or vacations and is available free of charge to all NFL players. One call is all it takes.
As the result of intense negotiating sessions with the NFL Management Council, the NFLPA has put into place a CBA that provides its players with innumerable benefits beyond the dollars and cents of player contracts. In order to fully appreciate the perks and rewards of being an NFL player, it is imperative that NFL players learn and understand all of the benefits to which they are entitled.