As NFL Celebrates Damar Hamlin’s “Remarkable Improvement,” He Still Has No Pension

The Buffalo Bills safety appears to be neurologically intact and his lungs are healing

Damar Hamlin of the Bills on the sideline during a preseason game.
Damar Hamlin of the Bills is reportedly showing signs of improvement.
Timothy T Ludwig/Getty

On Thursday morning, multiple positive reports surfaced about the health of critically injured Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin.

Hamlin, who is being treated after going into cardiac arrest and collapsing on the field during Monday Night Football, has shown “remarkable improvement” on Thursday, according to the Bills. “Per the physicians caring for Damar Hamlin at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Damar has shown remarkable improvement over the past 24 hours,” the team said. “While still critically ill, he has demonstrated that he appears to be neurologically intact. His lungs continue to heal and he is making steady progress. We are grateful for the love and support we have received.”

That is all excellent news and it is great to have an injection of positivity into what has been, for the NFL and sports world in general, an extremely negative situation. Not to add to that negativity, but it is worth noting that Hamlin, who is only in his second year in the NFL, will not qualify for a pension from the league in the seemingly likely scenario that he never gets on the football field again.

As pointed out by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Oren Burks to The Mercury News, only players who have three or more credited seasons are eligible for pensions per the collective bargaining agreement that was negotiated in 2020 between the league and the players’ union. (To get credit for a season, a player must be on a team’s roster for at least three games.) While a non-vested player like Hamlin would potentially qualify for a “Total and Permanent Disability” or “Line of Duty Disability” plan, he would not be eligible to receive the medical, dental, vision, prescription drug and work/life resources coverage that continues for vested former players and their eligible dependents for five years after they are done playing.

“I think that’s definitely something in the next (representative) meetings that we’re going to be talking about,” Burks told The Mercury News. “This situation, specifically, he’s only had two years, so he’s not technically vested. The rookie that comes on is taking just as much risk as the seven-year vet. That’s definitely going to be a topic of conversation moving forward. How can we work with the league to find somewhere where we can really protect everyone — while they’re playing and afterward as well?”

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In addition to not qualifying for a pension, Hamlin, a sixth-round pick in last year’s NFL Draft, has no more guaranteed money remaining on his four-year contract with the Bills and may never collect another check from the league after pocketing about $1.6 million in career earnings.

On the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show, podcaster and radio host Garrett Bush addressed that issue. “He’s 24 years old. He got a contract for $160,000 — that’s his bonus — and he earns $825,000 this year. He’s been in the league two years. That means he’s not vested. That means that if he never plays another down in his life, he doesn’t get another check from the NFL,” he said. “You got to play 3-4 years before you even sniff a pension. So all these heartwarming prayers and condolences don’t do anything for that boy’s mom, who has to go home, look at her son, and he might need extensive care for the rest of his life.”

Whatever happens with Hamlin and his future in the NFL, he and his family will have some money at their disposal as donations to his charity, The Chasing M’s Foundation, have now topped $7 million. While the foundation was created to support toy drives, back-to-school drives and kids camps, anyone who donated in the wake of Hamlin’s injury likely wouldn’t have a problem with some of the money going to aid the 24-year-old in his recovery and life should he need it.

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