Bills vs Raiders brings back memories!

The Buffalo Bills take on the Oakland Raiders this Sunday and they better not take them lightly.  When a team is having a really bad season - like the Raiders - it's always nice to finish strong and give everyone a sense of hope for the following year.  They will do everything they can to spoil any chance we might have of making the Playoffs.

We didn't take them lightly in 1980.  We beat them, but they went on to win the Super Bowl that year.

I intercepted Pastorini in this game - to  regain the league lead with 5 picks.  Check out the the sign in the stands!  

It really does take teamwork to make good things happen.  On this next video, Fred Smerlas pressures Dan Pastorini just enough for me to get back and break up this pass intended for Cliff Branch.  This is what you call - using your head!

We had to make sure we knew where Dave "Casper the Ghost" was at all times. I could have had an interception on this play, but Casper knocks the living crap out of me in the endzone.   

It's been 35 years since we played this game, but the memories will always live on..........thanks to old video tapes!  

NFL player salaries and benefits under the CBA

Dear Alumni: 

I posted this information a few years ago, but for those of you who may have missed it, I am reposting it. 

I thought it would be interesting to see what the projected salary and benefits would be for an NFL player during the course of the new CBA. The amounts are calculated for a player that was a rookie in 2011 and plays until 2020 – a ten year period. Most, but not all of the benefits are available to vested players (3 credited seasons).

Here they are:

NFL Salary:   $20 Million (2 million annually for 10 years) The average salary for 2012 was $2 million. The median annual salary was $790,000. When factoring in a typical signing bonus, roster bonus and incentives, these numbers can go up well into the $2 to $3 million range. I should also note that the average salary will continue to increase over the course of the new CBA. 

Annuity Plan: $525,000 (this amount does not include earned interest that will accrue) This benefit is for players that have at least 4 credited seasons. The amounts are $65,000 annually for each of the years 2011-2013. $80,000 for each of the years 2014-2017, and $95,000 for each year from 2018-2020. For the purposes of this example, a rookie in 2011 would begin receiving the owner contribution to his Annuity from 2015 to 2020. If a player who was already vested in 2010, played until 2020 they would have $800,000 in their Annuity.

Second Career Savings Plan: $256,000 in owner contributions and $85,333 in player contributions, for a total of $341,333. Owners match 2 dollars for every 1 dollar a player contributes – up to the following limits: $24,000 for each of the years 2011-2014, $26,000 for each of the years 2015-2018 and $28,000 for each of the years 2019-20120. ie. A player would need to deduct $12,000 from their salary and put it into the savings plan in order to receive the maximum owner contribution of $24,000 in 2013.

Severance Pay Plan: $200,000 Based on the number of credited seasons a player has earned. For this hypothetical 10 year player, he would receive $15,000 for the 2011 season, $17,500 for each season 2012-2013, $20,000 for each season 2014-2016 and $22,500 for each of the seasons 2017-2020.

Tuition Assistance Plan: $60,000 for reimbursement of expenses for tuition, fees and books incurred within 4 years after the last regular season, or post season game. A player must have at least 5 credited seasons to be eligible for this benefit. A player must receive a grade of “C” or better in order to be reimbursed.

Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account: $350,000 (can be used to pay for all health and medical related costs – including the cost of annual premiums for staying on the NFL’s group insurance policy. A player must have three credited seasons to be eligible for this benefit.

Life Insurance: $1,600,000 Rookies begin with a $600,000 policy that is increased by $200,000 for each credited season up to the maximum of $1,600,000.

Group Licensing Agreement:  $120,000 (estimate based on an annual royalty of $12,000 paid equally to all active players for allowing the League to use their images for marketing and promotion of the NFL.) It was first negotiated in the 1993 CBA. The NFLPA’s 2012 LM-2 showed that active players receive $31,274,485 in royalties in 2011. Divide that amount by 2,600 players and you get approximately $12,000 annually. Although the GLA money is not considered a benefit, it surely benefits all active players.

Individual Licensing Agreements through NFL Players inc.:  Many active players also take advantage of the individual marketing opportunities offered by the NFLPA. For example, in 2011, Adrian Peterson was paid $200,000 and Adrian Peterson All Day Inc. received $323,704. That’s over half a million dollars in total. Here are a few others: Clay Matthews – $477,750, Cam Newton – $329,579, Chad Ochocinco – $263,798, Dez Bryant – $155,144, Andre Johnson – $140,000, Demarcus Ware – $61,871 and Frank Gore – $28,982 The average amount for most active players seems to be around $10,000 to $20,000. Again, this is not listed as a player benefit, but as you can see it obviously benefits the active players.

5 years of Free Medical Insurance after retirement: $78,725 ($15,745 annually for family coverage) or $28,075 ($5,615 for single coverage) These amounts are based on the average annual cost of medical insurance policy for 2012.

Extended Post-Career Medical and Dental Benefits: After the 5 free years of medical coverage, the NFL is now allowing players who are vested and have a credited season in 2011 to continue coverage under the NFL’s group medical insurance program. The NFL is obligated to pay no more than $16 million annually for these benefits under the new CBA. Former players must pay the annual deductible of $600 for individual and $1,200 for a family policy. This goes up to $850 for an individual policy and $1,700 for a family policy for years 2016-2020. The value of this benefit is enormous. Due to the injuries players sustained in the NFL, many are not able to find private insurance on the open market that will cover them. If they can find coverage, it is very expensive due to their pre-existing conditions.

Minimum Salary Benefit: $7 Million for a player earning the "minimum salary" over the 10 year period of the CBA. This is only the base salary and does not include signing bonuses, roster bonuses or incentives. In the new CBA, the minimum salary for all NFL players was initially increased by $55,000 over the 2010 amounts. The amounts increase another $15,000 for each of the first four years of the CBA. In 2013, rookies will earn $405,000. Players with one year of service earn $480,000; Two years $555,000; Three years $630,000; Four to six years $715,000; Seven to nine years $840,000. For players with 10 years or more of service, the minimum salary is $940,000.

Performance Based Pay Plan: $110 million annually in a mandatory distribution of the funds to players. Players have been paid nearly $700 million cumulatively since the inception of the program, which was implemented as part of the NFL’s 2002 CBA. Players earn varying amounts of money under the plan, therefore it is difficult to determine what any individual player would earn over a 10 year period. The average payout would be approximately $42,307 ($110 million ÷ 2,600 players). The top payout in 2012 was $299,465 to Cincinnati Bengals player, Vontaze Burfict an undrafted free agent. Check out this link for more info on the payouts under the 2012 PBP.

And last, but definitely not least…..

NFL Pension Plan: $201,453 annually at age 65, or $76,920 annually at age 55. For the purposes of this example, the owners would contribute $470 for the players credited season in 2011, $560 for each credited season from 2012-2014, $660 for each credited season from 2015-2017 and $760 for each credited season 2018-2020.

NFL Disability: Under the terms of the new CBA, for claims filed after September 1, 2011, a player will no longer have to prove that his total disability is related to NFL football to obtain the higher category of disability benefits, as long as his application is filed within 15 years of his last credited season. (“Inactive A” disability effectively replaces “football degenerative”) For players who retired more than 15 years ago, and found entitled to disability, they will receive a lower paying benefit even if their disability is totally football related.

These are the Total and Permanent disability plan annual payments for “Active” players whose applications are approved under the Active and Non-Active Football categories and for “Retired” players whose applications are approved under the Inactive A and B categories. The annual amounts are only for applications received on, or after September 1, 2011.

Active Football $250,000 (increased to $265,000 effective Jan.1, 2016)

Active Non-Football $150,000 (increased to $165,000 effective Jan. 1, 2016)

Inactive A $120,000 (increased to $135,000 effective Jan.1, 2016)

Inactive B $50,000 (increased to $60,000 effective January 1, 2016)

Line of Duty Disability: Not less than $2,000 a month and increased by $500 a month every other year beginning in 2013. If a player incurs a substantial disablement arising out of League football activities (but is not totally and permanently disabled), they may be eligible for “Line of Duty” disability benefits. Duration of payments: 7-1/2 years. Application time: Greater of four (4) years or the number of years equal to your Credited Seasons. For example, if you are a player with 10 Credited Seasons, you will be able to apply for Line of Duty benefits at any time up to 10 years after you cease to be an Active Player.

Vested players are also eligible for benefits under the Former Player Life Improvement Plan, the Long Term Care Plan, the 88 Plan and the Neuro-Cognitive Benefit, but these benefits are not guaranteed after the expiration of the CBA in 2020.

There are other provisions in the CBA that are not classified as benefits, like Termination Pay and Injury Protection, but even so, they are very beneficial to active players.

So there you have it.

Not bad for the player that is fortunate to play the entire length of the 2011-2020 CBA.

How would you like the NFLPA to spend money on former players?

During the year leading up to the signing of the 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, former NFL players – and in particular the pre-1993 players - did an excellent job of advocating for better pensions and benefits.

The pre-1993 players were successful in getting the “Legacy” benefit, although in my opinion – and thousands of other former players - the increase was not large enough and the CBA did not go far enough in addressing the inequities that still exist.

One of the reasons that former players advocated for pension increases for pre-1993 players was due to the fact that players from 1993 and forward were the beneficiaries of enormous salary increases that came as the result of free agency and other new benefits – most notably, 5 years of free medical benefits after retirement, Second Career Savings Plan, Annuity Plan, Group Licensing payments - not to mention increases and improvements to existing benefits like Severance Pay and Disability.

I’m not going to go through all of them, but let’s just take one of those benefits – Severance pay - as an example; Players with credited seasons from 1982-1992 received $5,000 per credited season, whereas players with credited seasons from 1993-1999 received $10,000 per credited season - twice the amount. And let’s not forget that players before 1982 received no Severance pay at all.

Of course, the most glaring injustice can be seen in the fact that pre-1993 players still need 4 years to vest in the pension plan, whereas post-1992 players only need 3 years.

As a pre-1993 player I still had hope that some of these inequities could be addressed under the “Joint Contribution” provision of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement.

In the agreement, $242 Million was made available to fund retired player programs, services and/or benefits - as determined by the NFLPA. In other words, the NFL could not tell the NFLPA how to spend the money.

So how has the NFLPA been spending this money on former players?

Right around this same time last year, I wrote an article entitled: The NFLPA is losing the trust of legacy players. In the article I stated that the NFLPA was using their discretionary funds to implement the “TRUST” program.

From what I have seen, it appears that most of the programs under the TRUST are designed for players that have just recently transitioned out of the NFL.  It would be interesting to find out how many pre-1993 players have actually benefited from the “Trust” program services.

How have you benefited?

As most of you know, the NFLPA also recently dipped into the Joint Contribution to fund pension increases for 1,722 former players that had credited seasons from 1993 to 1996. The increase cost $35.4 million dollars - spread out over 3 years.

I’m truly happy for the guys that were included in this pension increase, but instead of using the Joint Contribution money, this could have been negotiated into the 2011 CBA agreement as part of the increases they gave players under the regular pension - the Bert Bell / Pete Rozelle Retirement Plan.

If the NFLPA and NFL had spread this pension increase out over the 10 year term of the current CBA agreement, it would have cost 3.54 million a year – or $110,625 per team a year. I think the owners could have handled that – don’t you?

I wonder how many NFLPA Former Player Chapter members - and former players in general – have been involved in the decisions on how to spend the Joint Contribution money.   Has your voice been heard?

As I stated in a previous article,Maybe it's not too late for former players to influence the decision-making process on how the rest of these funds will be utilized”.

I’m not sure if there is any money left in the NFLPA’s Joint Contribution discretionary fund, but if there is, how would you like to see it allocated?

Feel free to leave a comment........

Former NFL Players: Be careful what you wish for!

Lately, I've been seeing a number of articles about former NFL players who said they wished they’d never played football in the NFL. Some have even talked about shutting it all down – from Pop Warner all the way up to the NFL.

You've probably heard their stories and in most cases I think you can understand why some of them regretted playing. If we had the same injuries, we might feel the same way. There's an old saying "Don't judge me till you walk a mile in my shoes or live a day in my life."  We would all do well to remember that quote. 

Unfortunately, there is no amount of money that can change what has happened to these men and the toll it has taken on their families, but it’s good to know that the NFL and the NFLPA have continually negotiated CBA's that have increased the amount of money going toward our benefits and helping players that have been injured.

Before you horse-collar me for making that statement, remember that I've been one of the harshest critics of the NFL and NFLPA with respect to the money allocated to former players via the Retirement Plan and other benefits - particularly, when it comes to the pre-1993 players.

I've pushed for pension benefits and other benefits for all players who have played even one year in the league. I was a strong advocate for the Legacy benefit - writing a letter that 80 Hall of Fame Players signed - asking for a significant increase in pre-1993 player pensions through the establishment of a rookie salary scale. I have asked thousands of former players to retain lawyers for the NFL concussion lawsuit – and now the NFLPA concussion lawsuit. The NFL and the NFLPA won’t go bankrupt over these lawsuits. They both pay an enormous amount of money for liability insurance that should help them in the event they lose any court cases.

The NFL Concussion Settlement could end up costing the League one billion dollars – but it won’t be their death knell. Nonetheless, the NFL still has good reason to be concerned about what’s been happening to its feeder programs - Pop Warner, High School and College football.

Here’s a good article by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada that discusses the problem Pop Warner football is facing: Pop Warner Youth Football participation drops: NFL Concussion crisis seen causal factor. These are the same authors that did such an amazing job researching and writing about the NFL concussion issue.

After reading the article, I totally agree with Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon at Boston University’s Center for the Study of CTE when he says “I desperately want kids to play sports; I want sports participation to go up. I just want the most dangerous sports for head trauma to be played in a way that's safe.”

Here’s a recent article about three high school players who died in just one week this past season: Football safety in question after high school players' deaths.  After reading this article you will see that unless the game is made safer, more parents will continue to bar their kids from playing. High Schools could see more lawsuits and end up dropping football programs because of the risk and the high cost of liability insurance. Insurance companies might stop issuing policies altogether if they feel the risk is too great. The NFL’s talent pipeline could slow to a trickle and the product on the field will degrade. In the end, sponsors and TV networks could begin to balk at the prices the NFL demands for broadcast rights.

If NFL revenues go down, then so do our chances of getting increases in our pensions and benefits. In the worst case scenario, the NFL could go bankrupt and the Pension Plan could become insolvent. It’s already in endangered status. Read this article: NFL Pension Plan is in Endangered Status

The good news: There are lots of ideas for making the game safer at all levels of football. Those ideas need to be implemented before football goes the way of the dinosaur and eventually becomes extinct.

Dr. Julian Bailes, Pop Warner’s chief medical officer said, "We need to help try to morph the game where it needs to go. Numbers are down, but it's a wakeup call. None of us are saying football should end. I'm saying the opposite -- football should continue."

If we want to see our pensions and benefits continue to live – we better hope and pray that football doesn't die.

Smash Mouth Football: A Dying Art Form?

Like most Bills fans, I’m tired of hearing about our 14 year playoff drought, but no matter what happens this year, the best Christmas present this team could give me would be a victory over the Denver Broncos - and one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

Since arriving in Denver, Peyton Manning has a home record of 20 wins and 2 losses, so how in the world could the Buffalo Bills pull off one of the greatest road game wins in team history.

Here’s how:

It all starts with making Mr. Manning very uncomfortable in the pocket. Just watch the Superbowl against Seattle and this year’s game against New England.

If you give Manning time to sit in the pocket he will beat you with the short passing game and eventually wear out your pass rushers with 8 and 10 minute drives. But, if you can put pressure on him, Manning gets frustrated and becomes just a good quarterback - instead of a great one.

The Bills lead the NFL in sacks and it will be critical in this game for the Bills to get in Manning’s face early and often. You do that by blitzing and sending more than 4 linemen. I can’t wait to see the look of disgust on Manning’s face when he’s getting hammered by Super Mario and the Bills linebacking corp.

Peyton reads the blitz better than any QB, so the Bills will have to mix in a number of fake blitzes if they want to keep him off balance. When he reads the blitz, Peyton will often signal his receivers to run short slant routes – which he throws better than anyone – keeping it low and away from the defender. This is where the Bills cornerbacks will need to do a good job of getting their hands on the receiver and taking away the inside position. If they don’t get a good inside position then the next best thing is to have the outside linebacker take a collision course on the receiver and smash the living daylights out of him.

Yes, football is all about hitting and intimidating your opponent - and in this case making them not want to catch a pass because they know that they could be carted off the field. We used to call receivers that pulled up short because they were worried about getting hit, the guys with “Alligator Arms” because they didn’t want to reach out and sacrifice their bodies. Hell, who could blame them.

Now, back to strategy…….

When Peyton sees cornerbacks doing this on a regular basis he will have his receivers fake the quick slant and run a go route – bending it to the sideline and away from the Safeties. This is where the Bills Safeties (in Cover 2) will need to make sure they are wide enough to get to the sideline and break up the pass - again, knocking the living sh*t out of any receiver that wants to catch that nice little lob pass that Peyton loves to drop in over the head of the cornerback.

Of course, when Manning sees that the Bills Safeties are getting wide in Cover 2, he will often send a third wide receiver or tight end down the middle of the field. This is where we need a linebacker to smash the receiver at the line of scrimmage. It takes a while for this “Banana” route to develop so if you can slow it down with a good bump at the line, the Bills might get a sack before Manning can unleash his pass.

Manning also loves to hit the short crossing route. His receivers often take the pass and turn up field for big gains. The best way for the Bills to stop this route is to make sure that the linebackers that are on the opposite side of the field are putting a bull’s-eye on the crossing receiver and aim to “separate them” from the football.

Football is a violent sport and I’m not saying that players should be trying to injure their opponents, but the truth of the matter is..... accidents do happen when you are playing with reckless abandon.

If the Bills want to have any chance of beating Denver, they better play like the Bronco players just slapped their mother and then asked them “Who’s your daddy?”

Back in my playing days (1979-’84) we knew which teams were going to try and beat you physically and intimidate you mentally - the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders – and in most cases they did.

There is only one way the Bills win this game. They have to play smart and they have to play “smash mouth” football. Here’s a link to a good article on this style of play - and how it has become a dying art form in the "pass happy" NFL:

On offense, the Bills need to employ this “Smash Mouth” offensive football if they want to have any chance in this game.

In most games, if you win the battles in the trenches – the O line and the D line – you ultimately win the war. The Bills have a pretty decent running game and this is one time where they really need to get nasty and start pounding the ball up and down the field. That will keep the ball out of Manning’s hands and run a lot of time off the clock.

On Sunday, the Buffalo Bill’s players need to start getting nasty!

I wish my former teammates Conrad Dobler and Phil Villapiano could give this team a pep talk before the game. They weren’t always bigger, or faster or stronger than the guys they lined up against – but no one was ever meaner, nastier, more aggressive and had a greater desire to win than those two.  Conrad wrote a book entitled "They Call me Dirty." Sure he did a few things outside the rules, but in reality he didn't get penalized much more than any other players.  We called Phil Villapiano the "Guru" because he gave motivational speeches that would inspire Knute Rockne - and he always backed up what he said on the field.  At the end of a game he never left the field with any gas in his tank.

They had the right stuff……and the current Bills players could really use a big dose of Smash Mouth for this game.