The moment Judge Anita Brody gives preliminary approval to the concussion lawsuit settlement announced three days ago, a firewall will be established between all retired players and all current players.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy tells PFT via email that players need not file retirement papers to qualify as retired. Anyone who is no longer on a team and not seeking employment with another will be regarded as retired for the purposes of the concussion settlement. (That said, it’ll be easier to prove that a player isn’t seeking employment if he files his retirement papers.)
Players who aren’t retired will be frozen out of the deal, regardless of any cognitive issues they have now or may develop in the future. Some will shrug at that reality, concluding that they’ll just sue the league for concussions after their careers end — like plenty of players have done in recent years.
For players who entered the league after the NFL realized and acknowledged the full spectrum of concussion-related risks, it will be very difficult to sue in the future. The only remaining donut hole comes from arguably lingering deficiencies regarding the procedures for spotting potential concussions during games and checking players for concussions before letting them re-enter. It’s now impossible for any NFL player signed or drafted after 2009 to say they didn’t know the risks of concussions.
For players who have been in the NFL for multiple years prior to 2009, when the league experienced the epiphany that has resulted in plenty of rule changes and new points of emphasis, it will be easier to claim they were victimized by the NFL’s alleged history of blissful ignorance and/or deliberate cover-up regarding the potential harm of head injuries early in their careers. The problem for those players is that they’ve yet to sue, making it very hard to rely on pre-2009 conduct, given the two-year statute of limitations that usually applies to injury claims.
For players like cornerback Antoine Winfield, whose 16-year career began at a time when the league arguably wasn’t being as candid as it could have been with players, retirement in the wake of being cut by the Seahawks qualifies him for the settlement. Even if he doesn’t have any cognitive problems now, he’ll be able to seek compensation if he develops serious issues later.
As current players weigh their options regarding retirement, the agendas can get a little screwy. For the players who already are retired, they have reason to hope that current players who have many years of hat-banging experience in the seasons before 2009 don’t retire. Once the $675 million compensation fund (plus another one-time contribution of up to $37.5 million) is gone, it’s gone. The money will go sooner if more guys decide to try to get some of it.
For players who are at the point where they are most likely getting no additional compensation for playing football, the time has arrived to decide whether to try to hang on to a roster for another season — or whether to step aside and join in a settlement that, in theory, will compensate them for serious cognitive injuries they have or may develop in the future.
The message for any player who is thinking about trying to continue to play? Weigh your chances of getting another NFL paycheck against the reality that you’d be forfeiting a chance to receive compensation if, in the future, you develop ALS or Alzheimer’s or dementia or some other serious cognitive problem.