“The membership voted today to accept the negotiated terms on the principal elements of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement,” the league said in a written statement.
The owners “probably” will move forward with their plan to implement the expanded, 14-team playoff field next season even if the players decline to ratify the new CBA, according to one person familiar with the situation. The owners have included the expanded playoffs in the CBA negotiations with the NFLPA but, in their view, don’t need the players’ approval to increase the size of the postseason field from 12 to 14 teams. They already believe they have that right under the existing CBA, although the NFLPA has contended in the past that they do not.
The league and owners, by contrast, said when the last labor deal was struck in 2011 that they would not lengthen the regular season without the players’ consent.
Under the proposed format for the expanded playoffs, seven teams in each conference would qualify for the postseason instead of the current six. Only one team in each conference, rather than the current two, would be given a first-round playoff bye. There would be six opening-round playoff games — three in each conference — rather than the current four.
The owners’ preference clearly would be for the entire new CBA to take effect with the players’ approval. The owners’ vote Thursday to ratify the proposed CBA was not unanimous, according to a person familiar with the situation, who did not specify what the vote was. The deal needed to be approved by 24 of the 32 owners. Owners took the vote during a special meeting, scheduled Tuesday by the league, at a New York hotel.
Several owners declined to comment as they left the meeting, and the league did not make NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell available to address reporters.
“Following more than ten months of intensive and thorough negotiations, the NFL Players and clubs have jointly developed a comprehensive set of new and revised terms that will transform the future of the game, provide for players — past, present, and future — both on and off the field, and ensure that the NFL’s second century is even better and more exciting for the fans,” the league’s written statement said.
The NFLPA’s 32 team-by-team player representatives are scheduled to speak by conference call Friday after scrapping plans for an in-person meeting late this week in Washington. Under NFLPA rules, the deal would have to be approved by two-thirds of the 32 player reps and then by a majority of all players. NFLPA leaders have left open the possibility that the vote of all players could be taken electronically.
“There has been a flood of information on the potential of a new [CBA],” Eric Winston, a retired offensive lineman who serves as the NFLPA’s president, wrote on Twitter. “To our players: your player leadership has been working tirelessly. This is a business deal, and no deal is finalized until the players vote.”
The NFLPA declined further comment through a spokesman.
The new league year begins March 18, when the NFL’s free agent market is scheduled to open. But the league, in its statement, mentioned the beginning of teams’ offseason business next week. Presumably that was in reference to Tuesday being the first day on which teams can apply the franchise tag to players. The league suggested in its statement that it is done, at least for now, negotiating the terms of a new CBA.
“Since the clubs and players need to have a system in place and know the rules that they will operate under by next week, the membership also approved moving forward under the final year of the 2011 CBA if the players decide not to approve the negotiated terms,” the NFL’s statement said. “Out of respect for the process and our partners at the NFLPA, we will have no further comment at this time.”
Each team would be able to use both the franchise- and transition-player tags this offseason if the old CBA remains in effect. If the new CBA is ratified, each team would be limited to using one tag, either the franchise tag or the transition tag. That is significant for a team such as the Dallas Cowboys, with quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper both eligible for unrestricted free agency in March.
The proposed CBA would last for 10 years and would give the players approximately 48 percent of the league’s revenue under the salary cap system during a 16-game season and 48.5 percent after a switch to a 17-game season. The regular season would be extended from 16 to 17 games at some point in the early stages of the new CBA, probably between the 2021 and 2023 seasons.
Owners want the longer regular season as a revenue-boosting mechanism and probably would tie its onset to the beginning of new TV contracts. Some players have expressed opposition to a 17-game season based on safety concerns. But NFLPA leaders negotiated based on the 17-game proposal, saying the league and owners tied certain concessions to the players to the union’s acceptance of a longer regular season.
The preseason would be reduced in conjunction with the onset of a longer regular season. The sport’s marijuana policy would be made significantly less punitive. The testing window for THC would be narrowed from four months to two weeks at the start of training camp. Players no longer would be suspended solely for positive THC tests. The number of players tested would be reduced and the threshold for what constitutes a positive test would be increased.
Goodell would retain his disciplinary authority in integrity-of-the-game cases, but other player disciplinary rulings would be overseen by a neutral decision-maker. There would be reductions of fines by teams and of fines by the league for on-field infractions. Players would have a five-day acclimation period at the start of training camp. There would be a 2½-hour limit on padded and full-speed practices during training camp and further restrictions on players hitting in camp. There would be increased minimum salaries for players and modifications to the rules for fifth-year options in rookie contracts. There would be improvements to players’ pensions and benefits.
The current CBA runs through the 2020 season. A failure by the players to ratify the new CBA in the coming weeks probably would lead both sides to intensify their preparations for a potential work stoppage in 2021.