The Pro Football Hall of Fame, in an unusual move, is endorsing the NFL labor agreement the players' union is currently voting on, citing pension benefits for its inductees and other former players.
Hall of Fame president David Baker sent a letter to all inductees and their families on Monday. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter, in which Baker refers to conversations with various league and union officials. Team owners approved the deal last month, and the player vote will conclude late Saturday night.
Previously, the union's executive board voted 6-5 against the deal; the player representatives were 17-14 in favor, with one abstention. Some 2,500 union members can vote, with a simple majority approving or rejecting the agreement that would run through the 2030 season.
"I believe that both sides, the NFL and the players association, united to support former players," Baker wrote, noting that "over $700 million for players (including $300 million for former players) for 2020 alone will be lost forever" if the new collective bargaining agreement is rejected.
Baker addressed key elements of the proposed CBA:
• Retirement security. The monthly benefit credit for all retirees will be increased to $550 per month for every year of credited service. Increases may vary if players have already taken a portion of their pensions early, but the average increase could be 50%. With a modest increase in league revenue that is tied to the increase of the salary cap, the pension could move to $600 per month for every year of credited service.
He added that these increases would be realized annually for life and that about 11,500 former players would benefit from this change.
• Vesting. About 700 former players who were credited with only three years of service when four were required will now be eligible to participate in the pension and health reimbursement benefit programs. Those players, who are currently receiving no pension benefits, would begin receiving an annual pension of $19,800 for life.
• Family benefits. Death benefits for widows and survivors would increase from $6,000 per month for 48 months to $13,000 per month for 60 months. That would increase to $15,000 per month by 2025. After the 60 months, the benefit would decrease to $6,000 per month instead of $4,400 as in the current CBA.
• Health coverage. The Health Reimbursement Account would be applied for about 4,400 pre-2007 players under the age of 65 with at least three years of credited service. That would provide an immediate $50,000 contribution to cover medical expenses for them and their dependents.
• Health care. A nationwide hospital network would be formed that will offer primary care and other free services, including wellness and preventative screenings, mental health care and certain orthopedic treatment to former players. The program eventually would be expanded to include additional services and become available for wives and widows.
More than 2,400 vested former players who are at least 50 years old would receive free long-term care insurance to help cover the costs of nursing and facility care, medical management and meal preparation. Vested retirees age 65 or older would have additional options for their Medicare supplement benefit, which would increase by 25% midway through the labor agreement.
Baker noted that other benefits also would be enhanced, and if the players approve the deal, former players "should be able to receive a personalized benefits statement so that the program could begin as early as April."