INDIANAPOLIS— At the NFL’s annual convention, the scouting combine, the entire league is waiting eagerly to see if a majority of the approximately 2,000 NFL players will vote yes on the proposed new 10-year collective bargaining agreement. On his way into a competition committee meeting Wednesday morning, NFL Players Association president Eric Winston said the union has not yet set the details for the players’ vote.
“I have said repeatedly, there will be white smoke when there is white smoke,” said Winston, the retired offensive tackle. “And listen, the one thing we are not doing is rushing into anything. The one thing we are not doing is rushing through this. Every ‘I’ will be dotted, every ‘T’ will be crossed, and when that happens, that happens.”
Winston's message about not rushing could be intended for the players and the owners alike.
The owners voted last week to accept the terms of the new proposed agreement, which includes a move to a 17-game regular season no earlier than 2021; an expansion of the playoff field from 12 to 14; and an increased revenue share for the players, up from 47 to 48 percent, and to 48.5 percent after the move to 17 games. The agreement would also include increased minimum salaries, expanded benefits packages for current and former players, more practice restrictions, roster expansion and a relaxed marijuana policy.
After the owners’ vote in New York last Thursday, the union decided not to vote on Friday, instead scheduling an in-person meeting with the NFL in Indianapolis for this past Tuesday night. The eight members of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee conferenced with several player representatives for about four hours at The Conrad hotel, both sides leaving without commenting. One change to the proposed CBA that was agreed upon during the meeting, according to multiple people inside the room, was the elimination of the $250,000 cap on players’ pay for the 17th game; players with contracts negotiated under the current CBA would earn a 17th check at the same rate as the 16 other game checks. Some members of the players’ side also pushed for greater offseason work restrictions in exchange for the 17th game; the owners did not agree to that, only going so far as to suggest that a joint committee could further examine these rules.
More than half of the union's 32 player reps needed to vote yes to send the proposed CBA to a full membership vote, but as first reported by the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, that vote was split 17-14, with one member abstaining. This underscores that there are differing views among the player leaders, some of whom feel like this process has been rushed or that they’re not getting enough back for a significant change to season structure that could affect the length of their careers and their short- and long-term health and safety. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson posted on Twitter Wednesday morning that he would vote no for this current deal, writing that the players should not rush the next 10 years for today's satisfaction. Winston declined to tell reporters if, as the union president, he is recommending that the player ranks should approve this CBA proposal.
“All that stuff I say in private,” Winston said. “I believe in the democratic process. I believe in our guys standing up and being heard, and I believe that we have a lot of great leaders in the room that can advocate for their positions. First my job is to make sure every single person is educated, every single person knows what is going on. I think we accomplished that, and now it’s a matter of guys making a decision.”
He added: “Our guys are doing a wonderful job leading, doing a wonderful job standing up for what they believe in, and I told them that I know the guys that came before us would be proud of what we are doing.”
The players may take the vote electronically, but Winston did not want to set a timeline for when that might take place—whether hours, days or weeks. Until there is an agreement, teams will proceed according to the rules of the final year of the existing CBA. The window for teams to begin tagging players will still open Thursday (after being pushed back from Tuesday), and teams will be allowed to use both a franchise tag and a transition tag for 2020. It’s possible the NFL could push back the start of the league year from March 18, but it seems unlikely the owners would want to do that, since that date keeps the pressure on the players to vote.
There are many different potential outcomes at play. Until a resolution is reached, and the players vote, NFL business will continue in Indianapolis—but not quite as usual.
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