Selected third overall in the 1981 NFL draft, Freeman McNeil became one of the best running backs in league history, but his mark off the field truly cements his legacy. As the main plaintiff in the NFLPA’s antitrust lawsuit filed against the NFL in 1990, McNeil was instrumental in earning his fellow players the right of free agency.
The NFLPA and the plaintiffs in this lawsuit fought to end the league’s “Plan B” free agency, a system implemented in 1989 that allowed clubs to assert exclusive rights to 37 veteran players at the end of each year and thereby prevent them from signing with another team.
The jury in the McNeil case found the Plan B free agency system was in violation of the antitrust laws and would no longer be in effect after the start of the 1992 season. Then, in 1993, the NFLPA reached a settlement with the owners that brought unrestricted free agency to NFL players for the first time in history.
During his 12-year career, all of which he spent with the New York Jets, McNeil was not able to search for the best deal or change teams in his prime. And although the former UCLA running back was not an NFLPA Player Rep at the time of the lawsuit, McNeil understood the bigger picture and overall significance of this case when he decided to become the lead plaintiff. While four other plaintiffs received damages after winning the case, McNeil did not receive a penny.
Many current players and fans view free agency as a given, but in reality, several players like Freeman McNeil had to put their careers on the line for the benefit of all those who came after him.