Ken Hambleton

The NFL deal is going to be completed Thursday. Players are back in camp with a new agreement, so both sides can start counting their money again.

You can start looking ahead to your fantasy team draft, and Sunday afternoons will have special meaning again.

To the players, there are a couple of major differences that didn't make headlines — fewer practices with full contact and more money to help former players.

You may not care if almost eight out of 10 of your favorite players are one cut and two years away from bankruptcy, divorce or unemployment. You may not care that almost all of your favorite players, and even the ones you dislike, will face surgery soon.

The numbers are as intimidating as a linebacker blitzing a slow-footed quarterback.

NFL players are the most injured in our society. Life expectations are less than 60 years for former players.

The average career is 3.5 years long. One third of players tested have substantial mental deficits similar to those seen in much older people, according to MedPage Today.

According to one study, 78 percent of the players are bankrupt, divorced or unemployed just a few years after their playing careers end.

One major problem is that for years, the active players and the team owners have all but ignored the former players' needs.

And there are dire needs, even for those who made millions at one time.

"We've seen it all over the country and even here, just a few years ago when Andra Franklin died back in 2006," said former Husker Jim McFarland. "I see my former teammates with the (St. Louis) Cardinals, like Conrad Dobler, who has had 35 or 40 surgeries. Dan Dierdorf, who had both knees, a hip replaced and uses a walker to get around.

"A lot of players suffer in silence. Andra Franklin was 47 and didn't get around because of his heart and died at 47." Franklin was a star at Nebraska and later with the Miami Dolphins.

Some premature deaths are linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease caused by concussions and other head injuries. In recent years, brain injuries have been linked to the suicides of some former players.

"There are plenty of players needing help, and I think we've found some more help with the latest NFL collective bargaining agreement," said McFarland, who played for the Huskers in the 1960s and is a local attorney. He joined former Huskers Danny Noonan and Tom Ruud in starting a Nebraska chapter of the NFL Retired Players Association a few years ago.

McFarland has since become a member of the board of the NFL Former Players Association and is a member of the NFL Players Association Executive Committee. "Note that we're not 'retired' players any more, we're former players," McFarland said. "Some guys joked, 'I didn't retire voluntarily. They told me I was retired.' So we're former players now."

Another group of former players have a hearing set for Aug. 10 on a suit they filed against the owners and current players. The suit says they were left out of the labor talks and both sides conspired to keep benefit levels and pension payments low.

McFarland says the former players could get $900 million to $1 billion in additional funds in terms of health insurance, job transition, tuition for those who want to finish college and financial-planning efforts.

"That sounds like a lot, but remember, it's over 10 years of the new contract and the $9.8 billion the NFL is taking in this year will grow by 8 percent a year, and that means a $20 billion or so income in 10 years," he said. "So we're looking at less than 1 percent for former players.

"At least we're going in the right direction."

Reach Ken Hambleton at 402-473-7313 or khambleton@journalstar.com.

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