As each NFL team tweaks their 53-man roster this week, there is still a steady stream of negotiations going on between agents and salary cap managers. Some teams are still rounding off their practice squads and building their emergency short list. The other lesser known activity is the negotiation of injury settlements.
Injury settlements are agreements between players and teams spelling out compensation and other terms in which the two parties will immediately part ways. For example, if a player suffered a preseason injury such as a knee MCL partial tear, it usually takes about six weeks to heal and for the player to get back to full strength. If the player sustained the injury in the final week of the preseason (7 days prior to the 53 cut down date) and all parties agreed it would take six weeks for a full recovery, the parties may agree on a five week regular game settlement. A five-week settlement is appropriate because the first week of the six weeks is still during the preseason. Thus, the player would have most likely missed five weeks of the regular season on the inactive or the injured reserved list. Therefore, the team will pay the player for those five weeks in trade for a full release of liability. So the player will be paid 5/17th of his salary (there are 17 weeks in the season.)
Here are some typical terms and/or components of an injury settlement:
-Player and his representatives release team, doctor, trainers and team’s agents from all liability associated with the injury.
-Team will be responsible for the costs of all second medical opinions, rehabilitation, medical and related expenses. A player may choose to rehab his injury at a place of his own choice.
– Player acknowledges that he has hereby been given notice that he may have rights under the applicable Workers’ Compensation laws of the state in which the team resides.
-Offset language preventing a player from double dipping. It usually goes like this:
The parties further agree if Player signs a new contract with another NFL Team during the first five weeks (using our MCL example) of the 2014 NFL Regular Season, Club’s obligation shall be reduced by the amount of any contractual compensation (including, without limitation, salary, signing, reporting, option and/or incentive bonuses) received or earned by Player from such other NFL Team and Player shall reimburse Club for any such amounts previously paid by Club.
Injury settlements are used in lieu of placing a player on the Injured Reserve (IR) until he is healthy enough to be released. If an injury is deemed to take longer than 17 weeks to recover the player will be placed on IR for the season and receive his full salary (unless he has a split contract). Injury settlements are also used to lighten the load of the training room. If a team has six players who have injuries that require rehabilitation it will tie up the time and resources of the training room. Teams want to move on from players they think wouldn’t have made their team, are expendable talents and/or are easily replaceable.
Injury settlements can also give a team a chance at getting a player back during that same season. There is a rule in place that the team (agreeing to a settlement) can’t resign that player until a minimum of six weeks passes following the amount of weeks of the initial settlement. So for our MCL example, the team cannot resign that player for the first eleven weeks. For a player who did a three week/3 game settlement, his team can’t sign him back until after week nine. However, the player is free to sign with another team.
If a player, usually upon the advice of his agent, doesn’t want to do an injury settlement, it’s the team’s obligation to rehab and give him medical treatment. Once the team and the team’s physician deem the player healthy enough to return to the field, the team will release the player from the injured list. If the player feels he is still injured, he has the right to file an injury grievance against the team. An independent arbitrator (as spelled out in the CBA) will hear the grievance.
Negotiating an injury settlement can be very tricky and can get downright nasty. A player has a right to a second opinion from a doctor of his choice. So a team doctor may say the injury should be completely healed in 6 weeks. A second opinion doctor may say that it could take up to ten weeks for the injury to heal. Therefore, the agent will ask the team for ten or even eleven weeks of salary. The team will propose five or six weeks. The two parties will usually reach an agreement in the middle of the two opinions. In most cases, agents will fight tooth and nail for a time beyond the predicted recovery table to make sure they don’t short change their client. Agents will also try to get a settlement equal to at least 3 game checks in order to garner that player a credited season which would lead to certain benefits if the player had at least three credited seasons. As agents, we know that injuries take longer to heal than what is typically projected.
Although this is how the system works, it is deeply flawed. For one, the system asks a salary cap manager/or GM and an agent to play doctor and predict when a player will be healthy. Two, it relieves teams of liability when an injury could possibly linger for months and/or years. Three, it takes the player out of a controlled football environment and sends him out on his own to rehab and workout.
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