SANTA CLARA – 49ers linebacker Oren Burks, the team’s NFLPA representative and a fifth-year pro, would like to see younger players like Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin be eligible for the same kind of benefits that veterans like himself receive after three credited seasons.
Hamlin, 24, remained in critical condition in a Cincinnati hospital Wednesday, two days after he went into cardiac arrest in the first quarter of the Bills’ game against the Bengals.
The Bills said Hamlin has displayed signs of improvement, but that he remained under intensive care with his future in pro football and perhaps even his survival still in question.
“Obviously, prayers to him and his family,” Burks said Wednesday. “It’s something we haven’t had to deal with. It’s tough.”
By being in only his second NFL season, though, Hamlin is not considered vested or eligible for a pension by the terms of the league’s newest collective bargaining agreement approved by the players’ union in 2020.
Only players who have three or more credited seasons are eligible for pensions, with being on a team’s roster for at least three games — regular season or playoffs — enough to be credited for a season. The previous minimum requirement for pension eligibility was four seasons.
“I think that’s definitely something in the next (representative) meetings that we’re going to be talking about,” Burks said. “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.”
Non-vested active players are eligible for various disability plans based on their condition, including “Total and Permanent Disability” and “Line of Duty Disability”, with each benefit carrying different qualification rules and amounts available.
Non-vested former players can receive similar benefits if they meet certain standards.
The Total and Permanent Disability coverage is intended to provide support for former players who are unable to work due to a severe and permanent disability and, like Hamlin, who have two or fewer credited seasons.
Benefits for vested players are far more wide-ranging, including ones for joint replacement procedures, discount prescription drugs and life insurance.
Medical, dental, vision, prescription drug, and work/life resources coverage continues for vested former players and their eligible dependents for five years after their playing days are over. Non-vested players are not eligible for such benefits.
“So that’s definitely going to be a topic of conversation moving forward,” Burks said. “How can we work with the league to find somewhere where we can really protect everyone – while they’re playing and afterward as well?”
Hamlin was a sixth-round draft pick out of Pittsburgh by the Bills in 2021 and per Spotrac, signed a four-year, $3.64 million contract, which included a $160,476 signing bonus and $160,476 in guaranteed money. His base salary for this season was $825,000.
The Bills and the NFL have provided medical updates on Hamlin since the terrifying incident on Monday night, as the player’s family has been reluctant to provide specifics about his condition and prognosis. However, a family spokesperson, Jordon Rooney, told the Associated Press recently that, “we all remain optimistic.”
“Moments like that just like put things into perspective about what really matters,” Burks said. “We love playing this game, and day by day, we’re going to do everything we can to add value and put the best product on the field.
“That’s kind of always in the back of your mind – what’s the worst that could happen? But you always think about the positives as well. The joy and the inspiration that it brings to so many people, not even just ourselves in this building. So it just kind of provides a great perspective for that.”