The NFL's nuclear-winter scenario has vanished -- and when the final bills get counted, the settlement of the concussion lawsuit will cost each team about $30 million.
All things considered, that's a very fair deal to buy peace of mind for the next decade.
The specter of a class-action lawsuit brought by 4,500 former players and/or their estates hung over the most popular and profitable game in the country. It was a storm cloud that wouldn't go away ... until today, when a federal judge announced a settlement between the league and the players that should make the suit vanish once Judge Anita Brody accepts the official terms.
The settlement will cost NFL owners $765 million in compensation to aggrieved players and baseline testing for all former players who want it. All former players are eligible to apply for testing and payment from the fund, not just the players who joined the lawsuit. In addition, the NFL will be required to play the plaintiffs' legal fees, which are likely to be at least $200 million.
In essence, the league won. A bill of $30 million per franchise comes to about 10 percent of the average franchise's 2013 revenue, which Forbes placed at $286 million. That's probably less than most owners felt they'd end up having to pay in a settlement with the plaintiffs -- and certainly less than they'd have had to pay as losers in the concussion lawsuit.
So why'd the players take it? Simple: They knew how expert the NFL is in dragging out lawsuits. It could have been years before a settlement or verdict was reached, and in that time, many of the players who filed the lawsuit would be dead. Earlier this year, a former NFL fullback, Kevin Turner, who is afflicted with ALS, said he didn't have that long to wait.
I'm told that there was a strong consensus of the owners to do the deal that was on the table between the two sides. Surely they understand the best thing for the game -- for the short- and long-term -- was to settle this case before another season of bad publicity and mounting tension formed a storm cloud over the NFL.
Neither the NFL nor the attorneys for the players would comment on the settlement, which was reached after months of mediation sessions with Layn Phillips, the court-appointed mediator. The presiding judge, Brody, said: "I reserve judgment on the fairness, reasonableness, and adequacy of the settlement until the motions for preliminary and final approval of the settlement are filed. Right now, however, I commend the parties and their counsel on their extensive and good faith negotiations and thank Judge Phillips for his diligence in assisting the parties in reaching an agreement. From the outset of this litigation, I have expressed my belief that the interests of all parties would be best served by a negotiated resolution of this case. The settlement holds the prospect of avoiding lengthy, expensive and uncertain litigation, and of enhancing the game of football."
At issue was the contention of retired players who said team and league doctors did a poor job of diagnosing head injuries, and in some cases ignored concussions and returned players to games knowing they were injured. The league said its doctors didn't have a practice of returning injured players to the field before they were ready, and contended that when it knew the seriousness of the concussion issue it acted aggressively to make the game safer.
The settlement calls for a $675-million pool for compensation for injured players, $75 million for baseline brain testing over the next 10 years and a $10-million research-and-education fund to delve into long-term health issues for former players. Approximately half of the settlement is projected to be paid over the next three years.
So the players will have to wait a year or two for compensation, if they are deemed deserving. And NFL owners get to sleep better at night.