The proposed collective bargaining agreement is finally in the hands of some 2,000 players, who have until Saturday at 11:59 p.m. ET to vote on a deal that would govern the NFL and ensure labor peace until March of 2031. It is a complex document that goes well beyond its headline elements — the 17th regular-season game and two additional playoff teams that negotiators for the owners and players agreed to include in the proposal after 11 months of negotiations. The deal runs more than 400 pages, and it takes just a simple majority of the players who cast a ballot to ratify or decline it. Let’s make this a little easier to digest with a six-point guide to the proposal:
1) Who will be the big winner here?
Well, missing games isn’t good for anybody. And this deal guarantees 11 years (the 2020 season, which is the final year of the old deal, and the 10 new years) of labor peace. But the NFL Players Association’s focus — after consulting with players before negotiations began — was on improving things for what can be called the middle class of the roster. Sixty percent of NFL players earn prescribed minimum salaries. They will all get an immediate raise this year if the new deal is approved. For instance, a player with one credited season playing on the minimum salary (he was a rookie in the 2019 season) was slated to earn $585,000 in 2020. If the deal is approved, he will make $675,000 instead. A player with two credited seasons would have made $660,000 this year under the old deal, but would make $750,000 this season and $850,000 in 2021. More experienced players get similar increases. The league estimates that as much as an additional $100 million will go to players immediately this season if the deal is approved.
There are also increases in performance-based pay, starting with an average 12 percent increase in 2020.
2) Who gets how much money?
In the 2020 season, the players will get what was negotiated in the last CBA: 47 percent of all league revenue. There will be an uptick in the real dollar amount because the two additional wild-card games in the 2020 postseason will generate more television dollars — likely around $150 million — and players will get 47 percent of that. In 2021, whether the league plays 16 or 17 games, players will receive at least 48 percent of revenue. That is estimated to be about $200 million more for the players. The league will have a window to add the 17th game between 2021 and 2023. And when they do, and new media deals are negotiated, the players can then receive what is called a “media kicker.” If the league’s television revenues rise by 60 percent, the players would receive 48.5 percent of revenue. If the television revenues rise by 120 percent, players would receive 48.8 percent of revenue, meaning that players would receive a bigger piece of the pie. And the pie would be growing rapidly at the same time.
There are other revenue sources listed in the deal, but the most interesting one is this: players would receive a share of revenues from legal in-stadium gambling operations.
3) Players are weighing whether they’re getting enough for adding a 17th game. So what do they get?
In addition to the bigger revenue shares listed above, the union gets a laundry list of changes to work rules and benefits. Among them:
» Two additional active roster spots.
» Players can miss as many as five days of the offseason program and still earn the full offseason workout bonus.
» Training camp padded practices are limited to 16, down from 28. And padded practices will be limited to 2.5 hours, down from 3.
» If a player can’t play in a season after he is injured, he will receive 100 percent of his salary up to $2 million, compared to 50 percent and a maximum of $1.2 million under the old deal. If he can’t play two seasons after the injury, he will receive 100 percent of his salary up to $1 million, compared to 30 percent and a maximum of $575,000 under the old deal.
» Retired players will get big benefit increases under the deal, including a boost in pension.
» The hated and archaic “funding rule,” which teams used as an excuse to not offer more guaranteed money in contracts, is getting a makeover. Under the old agreement, teams had to put into escrow an amount of money equal to the amount of guaranteed money in contracts, minus a $2 million deductible. Under the new CBA, the deductible rises to $15 million (and then up to $17 million for the 2029-30 league years), which should give players a little more leverage to demand — and receive — more guaranteed money in contracts. Players had hoped to eliminate the funding rule altogether.
4) It is clear some players are very opposed to this deal — what more do they want?
The most prominent of the issues mentioned are a 50/50 split of revenue and lifetime medical benefits. But the debate among players boils down to this: Do they feel they got enough in exchange for playing a 17th regular season game?
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who serves as his team’s union representative, gave an interview last week to ESPN Wisconsin’s Wilde & Tausch, and he indicated that he did not think concessions on work rules were enough to sign off on 17 games.
“I think we should have stood firmer on revenue and player safety,” Rodgers said, “instead of trying to get some of these concessions.”
He also indicated that 17 games came as a surprise to players, because, he said, nobody wanted 17 games before the negotiations began.
“So a lot of us are wondering how the hell that even got into the conversation,” Rodgers said. “Because nobody wanted it.”
The length of the deal — 10 years with no opt out for either players or owners — has also been a source of concern for some players. The Cleveland Browns‘ JC Tretter, one of four players nominated to become the next NFLPA president, recently wrote that players had hoped to get minimum salaries up to $700,000. And mandatory fines for training camp holdouts have also been a point of contention since the deal was distributed.
Russell Okung, another candidate for union president and an outspoken critic of the proposed CBA, on Monday filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the union of negotiating in bad faith. It is unclear what effect the charge — or any decision by the NLRB — could have on the CBA if it is ratified, but at the very least, Okung’s accusation underscores the divisions among union members that have become apparent in recent weeks.
5) Will the drug and discipline policy change?
Yes, somewhat. On discipline, a new neutral “discipline officer” will make the initial decisions on punishment for violations of the personal conduct policy. Those decisions can be appealed to the commissioner by either side. The commissioner has final say. The changes to the drug policy eliminate suspensions for positive tests for marijuana, allows testing only in the first two weeks of training camp and significantly raises the threshold for a positive test. There are also tweaks to the performance enhancing drug policy. And maybe most notably, a suspension for driving under the influence will be three games.
6) Why do this deal now, when there is still a full year left on the old one?
The big reason is because the league has to start negotiating the new media deals, and it is in a much stronger negotiating position if it can go to the media companies and say there is a guaranteed decade of uninterrupted football in hand. Remember those media kickers?
If the deal fails to be passed, the league would be negotiating with the possibility that there would be a work stoppage after the 2020 deal, if a CBA couldn’t get done at the end of the current one. The fear is that the threat of a work stoppage would mean the NFL could not fully maximize its new media deals.
The NFL is coming off a season of strong ratings, but there is the expectation that they could dip this fall as interest in the presidential election ramps up. The NFL is concerned about future economic uncertainty, like the recent stock market drops related to coronavirus fears, and wants to negotiate the media deals before a sustained downturn.
Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.