The awards could reach $5 million for athletes with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease; $4 million for a death involving brain trauma; and $3 million for dementia cases.
Under the payout formula, those maximum awards would go to players under 45, who would likely need more lifetime care. For a man in his early 60s, the awards top out at $3 million for ALS and $950,000 for Alzheimer's disease. An 80-year-old with early dementia would get $25,000.
Individual awards would also reflect how long the player spent in the NFL, unrelated medical issues and other factors. For instance, the award could be reduced significantly if someone had injuries from an unrelated stroke or car accident. Men without any neurological problems would get baseline testing, and could seek compensation if test reveal any problems.
"This is an extraordinary settlement for retired NFL players and their families — from those who suffer with severe neurocognitive illnesses today, to those who are currently healthy but fear they may develop symptoms decades into the future," lead players' lawyers Christopher Seeger and Sol Weiss said in a statement.
Senior U.S. District Judge Anita Brody of Philadelphia must still approve of the plan, and is expected to hold a fairness hearing later this year. Individual players can also opt out or object to the settlement, which followed five months of what a mediator called "vigorous" negotiations between the players and the NFL.
"We of course support plaintiffs' motions, and will await further direction from Judge Brody," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
Players taking part will be encouraged to share their medical records with researchers studying brain injuries in football players, according to the extensive papers filed Monday.
The plaintiffs include class representative Kevin Turner, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots and is now battling ALS.
"The compensation provided in this settlement will lift a heavy (financial) burden off of the men who are suffering," Turner said. He hopes it will ensure that future players "do not suffer the way that many in my generation have."
The total settlement would include $675 million for compensatory claims, for players with neurological symptoms; $75 million for baseline testing for asymptomatic men; and $10 million for medical research and education. The NFL would also pay an additional $112 million to the players' lawyers for their fees and expenses, for a total payout of nearly $900 million.
The league's annual revenues top $9 billion.
More than 4,500 former players have filed suit, some accusing the league of fraud for its handling of concussions. They include Hall of Fame standout and former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett, and Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon, who suffers from dementia.
Mediator Layn R. Phillips of California, a former U.S. judge, called the settlement fair, noting the risks to both sides if the case went to court. Players might have the case thrown out of court and their claims sent to league arbitration, while the NFL might have been forced to release internal files that reveal what it knew, when, about the consequences of playing after a concussion.
"It was evident throughout the mediation process that plaintiffs' counsel were prepared to litigate and try these cases, and face the risk of losing with no chance to recover for their labour or their expenses, if they were not able to achieve a fair and reasonable settlement result for the proposed class," Phillips said.
The money is expected to last for at least 65 years. About 19,000 retired players would be eligible to seek awards or medical testing, but current players are not part of the deal.