1990s: Growth of the Union
NFL Players finally won true free agency after more than twenty years with the White v. NFL settlement. The NFLPA was reconstituted as a union and the first modern Collective Bargaining Agreement was enacted. In 1994, the NFLPA Board of Player Representatives voted to create NFL Players, Inc. as a wholly owned marketing and licensing arm to generate more revenue for players.
Spring 1990: With the NFLPA (temporarily) re-formed as a professional association, it first sets out to protect the individual contracting rights of NFL players. The result is McNeil vs. NFL, filed on behalf of eight players to end the restrictive Plan B system.
Shortly after this filing, the NFLPA founded a non-profit organization, the Professional Athletes Foundation (PAF). No stranger to the game, former player turned Executive Director Gene Upshaw recognized the many challenges players faced after their playing careers concluded. After learning what these former players needed to succeed, through his namesake, the PAF’s Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust (PAT) grant awarded its first $1,000 grant to a former NFL player.
1990-1992: NFL Properties spends $30 million to lure more than 700 players to its “Quarterback Club” and shift their licensing rights to the league. By attempting to take control of licensing income, owners hope to hurt the NFLPA’s ability to fund its legal cases.
September 11, 1992: The jury in McNeil v. NFL strikes down the Plan B system, ruling that it was more restrictive than necessary to achieve competitive balance.
October 1992: Reggie White agrees to file a lawsuit in his name (White v. NFL) that would strike down all other current restrictive forms of free agency.
1993: Following multiple legal victories in favor of the players, the NFLPA re-certifies as a union. A settlement of the legal cases as well as a new CBA – the first since 1987 -- leads to these gains:
- The modern-day free agency system is put into place, allowing for more player movement.
- As the first high-profile free agent, White signs to play in the league’s smallest market, Green Bay, quieting owners’ concerns that players would flock to bigger markets.
- The agreement has an immediate impact on player salaries, with wages increasing 38 percent for the 1993 season.
- Players receive a guaranteed percentage of the gross revenue for the first time. At least 58% of revenues must now be spent on players through the newly introduced salary cap.
- $195 million in damages is paid out to the players affected by the various lawsuits.
- Pensions nearly double while retroactively improving retired player plans for the first time.
- Minimum salaries significantly increase and a new annuity retirement plan is formed.