Here are some of the changes:
•Pension. Under the old agreement, players with at least four years of experience who retired between 1982 and '86 will receive $150 per month for each year they played, beginning at age 55. Now, for players accumulating just three years of NFL experience from 1993 on, pensions will rise gradually and top out in 1997, when each player will get $300 per month for each year played.
•Medical. The annual deductible for players has been reduced from $2,800 to $400 a year for full family coverage.
•Special disability. Previously there was no benefit for degenerative injuries. Now, if a player can prove he has a degenerative condition brought about by football, he will receive extra benefits, which amount to $4,335 per month by '97.
•401(k) plan. There was no such plan before the new agreement, but now each team will match $7,500 annually per veteran player in pretax savings for retirement.
•Postseason pay. A player on a division champion whose team won three playoff games including the Super Bowl in 1992 earned $64,000 in bonus money. Last season, the first year the agreement took effect, the bonus was $73,500. That figure will gradually rise to $107,000 by '99.
Believe it or not, some players feel that the sport has never been healthier and that they are making good money. "Whereas the foundation of baseball is shaky, the foundation of football is solid," says Mike Kenn, the Falcon tackle and NFLPA president. "For the first time in history, we have legitimate free agency, rewarding the players who play the best. And we have 106 more jobs coming to the league next year with expansion, which couldn't have happened without a labor agreement."
No labor agreement ever pleases everyone, but if the players understood the position the union was in when the deal was finalized—a drawn-out appeals court fight with owners could have not only bankrupted the players' association but also put previous legal victories at risk—they would realize that their union made the right decision at the right time. At least one union warhorse can appreciate Upshaw's work.
"Listen to this," says Upshaw, reaching for the answering machine in his office. He punches a couple of buttons and an angry voice comes through the speaker. "I read what those ungrateful s.o.b. players are saying about the new agreement," the voice says. "Tell them they can kiss your ass. You're doing a great job.... This is Mack, your main man."