Since every player in the NFL negotiates his own contract it is often asked why do they have a union. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers do not need the NFL Players Association as their multimillion dollar contracts and high powered agents have them well taken care of in most cases.
We have all heard of players who were well compensated in their playing days but are now poor and have to sell their Super Bowl rings for cash to pay their medical bills. It is a sad story but is no different than the lottery winners who are poor again three years later. Further, the lottery winner does not have an agent who was supposed to be looking out for them and setting up their retirement income and health insurance.
Ostensibly the NFLPA is designed to protect the “little guy” in football, the practice squad player or career special teams player making the league minimum. These players often play only a year or two and are treated as replaceable commodities by the team.
Even “training camp fodder” added just to make the squad larger during camp but who have no real chance to make the team are covered by the Union and have some rights and minimum standards that have to be adhered to by the team.
The NFL League Minimum salary is nothing to be sneezed at $310,000, but it is certainly true that the player making the league minimum salary does not have nearly the leverage in his contract negotiations as the star player.
It is an inescapable fact that playing in the NFL is not meant to be a lifetime career. But playing it can lead to lifetime health impacts. Long term health impacts such as knee injuries, back injuries, and post concussion syndrome are just several examples of the long term damage that can be seen as a result of playing a game as tough and violent as football.
Many players are now coming forward showing the impacts of those thousands of high speed collisions they encountered and what it has done to their mental faculties in their later years.
One possible solution is the existence of long term insurance and health benefits for players. But where would this benefit come from? The existence of the salary cap, as flawed as it is, prohibits players from making long term “personal service” contracts.
In a personal service contract a player may be able to defer money now in exchange for a smaller amount of money spread out over a large number of years. Almost an annuity to make sure there is some income received even many years later; or perhaps this remuneration could take the form of benefits and insurances that could cover the player for years after his playing days are done.
But the whole issue of how does this count against the NFL’s salary cap makes these nearly impossible to set up.
Thus the Union is designed to look out for players who can not contract themselves for life. The Union has created insurance and health benefits based on length of service. It is not sufficient to cover the damage seen in some cases but it is the best that can be created thus far.
The Union also has negotiated the contracts with the NFL that has set the total amount of compensation available for players. This has resulted in higher player salaries and higher minimum salaries as NFL revenues have increased over the years.
Overall, it is still a bit difficult to see where the player’s agent leaves off and where the player’s Union takes over. This has led to a fan perception that the Union is superfluous and not really needed in this case of high powered, millionaire players.