The league and the NFL Players Association were figuring out operational details Wednesday — including guidelines for teams to use their franchise-player and transition-player tags with the deal not yet officially approved — while the NFLPA was making arrangements to take the ratification vote. The deal, which was approved by the owners of the 32 NFL teams, would put an expanded set of playoffs into effect for the 2020 season, implement a 17-game regular season and a reduced preseason later on and bring changes to the sport’s marijuana policy and system of player discipline.
The NFLPA’s team-by-team player reps, meeting at a hotel in the Indianapolis area, voted early Wednesday morning to put the proposed CBA to a vote of all players, 17-14 with one abstention. The players’ meeting followed a nearly four-hour meeting Tuesday night between representatives of the players and owners at a different Indianapolis hotel.
“I always believe in the democratic process,” Eric Winston, the retired offensive lineman who serves as the NFLPA’s president, said Wednesday, “and we’re continuing to move through that.”
The final ratification vote could be a week or two off, people familiar with the NFLPA’s planning said. That vote will take place after a formal document of the CBA terms has been drafted. Winston said the vote could be taken electronically, but he was unable to specify when it would occur.
“We haven’t set it yet,” Winston said.
Prominent players such as San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, who participated in Tuesday night’s bargaining session with the league and owners, have expressed opposition to a 17-game season. Some players who are against the deal seem firmly opposed to the idea of adding a game, based on health and safety concerns, while others wonder whether the players are receiving enough in return for agreeing to it.
The players on the NFLPA’s ruling executive committee voted, 6-5, on a conference call Friday not to recommend ratification of the deal. Star players not directly involved in the negotiations, including Houston Texans defensive standout J.J. Watt and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, have taken to social media to say they will vote against the proposed CBA.
Even so, the widespread belief long has been that the deal would be ratified if it ever made it to a rank-and-file vote of all the players. The proposed CBA contains inducements, financial and otherwise, for the players to accept the 17-game season. The NFL’s minimum salary immediately will increase by at least $90,000 per player, a facet that is expected to be attractive to younger players on the lower end of the pay scale, though perhaps not as much to highly paid veterans such as Wilson and Watt.
One agent said Wednesday he will recommend that his players ratify the deal because of the economic gains, the reduction of hitting during training camp and the virtual elimination of suspensions for a positive marijuana test.
“The deal is good for the guys who are in the middle class of players and down from that,” the agent said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Not every player is Aaron Rodgers or J.J. Watt.”
Winston declined to say whether he will make a recommendation to players that they ratify the deal.
“All that stuff is staying private,” Winston said. “I feel like if there’s a right time to do something like that, there will be. But like I said, I believe in the democratic process. I believe in our guys standing up and being heard. I believe that we’ve got a lot of great leaders in the room that can advocate for their positions. My job is to make sure every single person is educated, every single person knows what’s going on. I think we’ve accomplished that, and now it’s a matter of guys making a decision.”
The NFL agreed during Tuesday night’s bargaining session, held at the Conrad Hotel in downtown Indianapolis, to lift a $250,000 cap on each player’s pay for a 17th game once the extended regular season goes into effect sometime between 2021 and 2023, according to people on both sides of the negotiations. That change will not require another vote of the owners to ratify the CBA, according to a person with knowledge of the league’s deliberations.
Owners declined to make more substantial changes to the proposed CBA and stressed to the players during Tuesday’s meeting that many concessions to the players in the deal are tied specifically to the 17-game season. Owners also told the players that the time to strike a deal is now, with the U.S. economy healthy and the NFL coming off a season with strong TV ratings. The owners are eager to reach new deals with the TV networks sooner rather than later and first wanted to have an assurance of another decade of labor peace.
The players’ contingent, which included Sherman and recently retired Buffalo Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, held its own meeting into the wee hours of Wednesday morning and took the vote of the player reps to put the issue before all players. That was a step taken to, in effect, allow the majority to decide.
“I was proud more than anything,” Winston said. “Our guys did a wonderful job leading, did a wonderful job standing up for what they believe in. And I told them that I know that the guys that came before us would be proud of what we’re doing. And so for me, watching those guys come in educated, come in having an opinion, come in willing to talk to other guys and willing to hear and hear and give back, that’s leadership at its finest.”
The deal will not go to the players accompanied by a recommendation from the player reps to approve it; that would have required a two-thirds vote of the player reps. The NFLPA previously had announced those voting parameters in a memo sent Monday to agents, after postponing a planned vote of the player reps during last Friday’s conference call.
“I’ve said repeatedly there’ll be white smoke when there’s white smoke,” Winston said. “Listen, the one thing we’re not doing is rushing into anything,” Winston said. “The one thing we’re not doing is rushing through this. Every ‘I’ will be dotted. Every ‘T’ will be crossed. And when that happens, it happens.”
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