By a razor-thin margin, nearly 2,000 NFL players voted to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement that covers the next 11 seasons of pro football.
The deal means the league and union will avoid a situation like the one they endured in 2011, when a lockout dragged through the spring and into the summer before an agreement was reached just as that season’s training camp was set to begin. The deadline to vote was 11:59 p.m. ET on Saturday night, and the count was finalized by an independent auditor on Sunday morning.
Among the provisions in the new deal.
• The NFL gets the option to extend the regular season to 17 games, starting in 2021. The playoffs will expand to 14 teams immediately.
• The salary cap will be set at 47% of all revenue in 2020 (it would’ve landed at around 46.6% this year under the old CBA), and move to 48% starting in 2021, with a media kicker likely to push the total to 48.5% after the broadcast deals are done (and maybe, eventually, 48.8%).
• Gameday rosters expanded to 48, with a provision for eight offensive linemen to be active.
• Growth on minimum salaries had lagged behind the growth of the cap. This deal restores the minimums to pace-of-cap, will lead to an immediate $100,000 raise for those players, and a bump of $495,000 over the next three years.
• Larger practice squads, with provisions for veteran players (previously, practice squads were limited to guys with less than three credited seasons).
• A $1.5 million salary-cap exemption for veterans who’ve been with their teams for longer than four years.
• Improved benefits and pensions, particularly for the pre-2011 players. And plans for a new network of health-care facilities to help ex-players will be put in motion.
• Fifth-year options for first-round picks become fully guaranteed, starting with the 2018 draft class (those 2022 options are to be exercised in 2021).
The small margin of the final vote reflected what had been divided leadership within the union on this deal. The NFLPA’s executive committee actually voted against it, 6-5, in late February, which led to a delay in the vote with the larger body of players.
In the end, the players against the deal felt like, given the addition of the 17th game and the owners’ strong desire to get past the CBA and onto the broadcast negotiations (no better sign of the networks’ thirst to do deals than Tony Romo’s new contract), the union should’ve hard-lined the negotiations in search of a game-changing CBA. While this deal certainly has its strong points, and will make the players a lot of money, it’s not seen as a game-changer.
That explains the pushback from star players like Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, and their message clearly got through to the rank-and-file via social media. More than 60% of NFL players are on the minimum salary. Given that the final vote was 51-49, clearly, many of those players looking at a $100,000 raise in 2020 voted against their own immediate self-interest.
As for what the deal does now, it should free teams to spend in free agency, whether that starts this week or thereafter (it may be pushed back, due to the national health crisis). The Final League Year rules under the new CBA allowed for teams to use two tags—both a franchise tag and a transition tag—and subjected everyone to the 30% rule, which prohibited large jumps in base salary year-over-year, and prevented teams from using routine mechanisms to get around the salary cap.
With the new CBA in place, teams are back to being able to use only one tag, which means teams like Dallas (Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Byron Jones) and Tennessee (Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry) will have to, absent new long-term deals done in the next 24 hours, let star players hit the market. The 30% rule coming off the books should give a team like, say, the Patriots with Tom Brady, more freedom to keep headliners and add around them.
Is it a good deal? Time will tell.
But now, it’s done, and that means the landscape for 2020 is set.
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