But members of the NFLPA’s board of player representatives, which includes the union reps from all 32 teams, are scheduled to meet Thursday. This week’s deliberations could be telling as to whether the union is willing to proceed in negotiations with the league on a CBA with a 17-game season, those people close to the situation said.
One of those people said that while he hesitated to call this a make-or-break week in the negotiations, a strong show of opposition by players to a 17-game season could imperil the hopes of the union completing a deal with the league in the coming weeks. It’s unclear how the league would react if the union were to express that a 17-game season is unacceptable.
The current 10-year CBA between the league and union runs through the 2020 season. Representatives of the league and players have been negotiating for months, attempting to strike a deal to avoid a potential work stoppage after next season.
Owners initially renewed their push for the regular season to be increased from 16 to 18 games per team. When the union resisted, owners changed course and have been seeking a 17-game regular season. That could result in each team playing one neutral-site game per season. The preseason would be shortened, and the NFL playoff field could be increased from 12 to 14 teams per year.
A new CBA also would include an increase in the portion of the sport’s revenues being given to the players under the salary cap system. There would also be changes to the sport’s drug policies and system of player discipline.
In a memo sent nearly two weeks ago to all NFL players, DeMaurice Smith, the union’s executive director, wrote that negotiations “thus far have proceeded with the NFL conditioning proposed increases in economics and other improvements on a potential 17 game model, with reduced preseason games and potentially an expanded playoff schedule.”
Smith wrote in that memo that the union and league had reached tentative agreements on some issues, including “significant modifications” to the drug and disciplinary policies, but differences remain on other issues.
“While we remain committed to the bargaining process, the major issues separating us are significant enough that we cannot recommend to our membership that we should accept a deal in this state at this time,” Smith wrote in the memo.
Smith is scheduled to address reporters Thursday afternoon at the Super Bowl media center in the union’s annual news conference during Super Bowl week.
Negotiating progress in recent months had led to some optimism that a deal could be struck by the Super Bowl. Barring that, the next significant deadline would be early March, when the new league year begins and free agency opens.
The union must elect new leadership later in March at its annual meeting. Eric Winston, the former NFL offensive lineman who has served as the NFLPA’s president, is ineligible for another term. Los Angeles Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung has indicated his intention to run for NFLPA president and has expressed a preference to take a hard-line approach to negotiations with the league and owners.
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