ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Thursday morning -- one week from the first game of the 2013 regular season -- the NFL and more than 4,500 retired football players settled on terms of an agreement to end all litigation related to concussions.
The league will contribute $765 million to provide medical benefits and injury compensation for retired players, fund medical and safety research and cover litigation expenses.
"This agreement lets us help those who need it most and continue our work to make the game safer for current and future players. (NFL) Commissioner Goodell and every owner gave the legal team the same direction: do the right thing for the game and for the men who played it," said NFL Executive Vice President Jeffrey Pash. "We thought it was critical to get more help to players and families who deserve it rather than spend many years and millions of dollars on litigation. This is an important step that builds on the significant changes we've made in recent years to make the game safer, and we will continue our work to better the long-term health and well-being of NFL players."
The agreement, which was announced by former United States District judge Layn Phillips, came after nearly two months of negotiations under the court-appointed mediator.
It will be submitted for approval to United States District Judge Anita B. Brody, who is presiding over these cases in federal court in Philadelphia.
"This is a historic agreement, one that will make sure that former NFL players who need and deserve compensation will receive it, and that will promote safety for players at all levels of football," said Judge Phillips. "Rather than litigate literally thousands of complex individual claims over many years, the parties have reached an agreement that, if approved, will provide relief and support where it is needed at a time when it is most needed."
From here, the settlement will be filed with Judge Brody, who will schedule a hearing to consider whether to grant preliminary approval. If it is given preliminary approval, the parties will distribute notice to the retired players and give them a chance to file objections. Then Judge Brody will determine whether to grant final approval.
"The benefits in this agreement will make a difference not only for me and my family, but also for thousands of my football brothers who either need help today or may need help someday in the future," said Kevin Turner, a former running back for the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots. "I am grateful that the NFL is making a commitment to the men who made the game what it is today."
The league has made player safety its main initiative in recent years, from changing the way tackles are coached and officiated to equipment advances, medical advances and the treatment of former players.
As part of Thursday's agreement, the NFL will also set up a separate research and education fund of $10 million. A portion of the fund will be used to support joint efforts by the NFL and retired NFL players to promote education and safety initiatives in youth football.
$75 million will be the cap for the cost of providing baseline medical exams to eligible retired players, and a fund of at least $675 million will be to compensate former players who have suffered cognitive injury or their families.
The settlement does not represent an admission of liability by the NFL. Rather, it is a decision by both sides to devote resources to benefit retired players and their families as opposed to litigating cases.
"To their credit, both sides recognized that it would be far more productive to get out of court and do something good for retired players with medical needs and focus on the future of the game and making it safer," Judge Phillips said. "I would characterize it as a 'win-win.'"