Some of the NFL’s biggest stars have come out strongly against a proposed new collective bargaining agreement for the league. Among the high-profile players pushing against a deal arrived at between team owners and the players union, which will soon go to a leaguewide vote, were Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Watt and Russell Wilson.
Watt, a three-time NFL defensive player of the year for the Houston Texans, made his feelings known early on, tweeting last week, “Hard no on that proposed CBA.”
He was joined Wednesday in vocally opposing the deal by Rodgers and Wilson, a pair of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks with 14 Pro Bowls between them. They weighed in, as did several other players, after union representatives for each of the 32 teams voted to send the proposed CBA to a leaguewide vote for ratification. That vote could take place within a week or two, and a belief exists within league circles that the deal will be ratified.
The 10-year agreement is centered around team owners’ desire to increase the regular season from 16 to 17 games, as well as to increase the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams. Among the concessions players would get in return are: a larger percentage of revenue; higher minimum salaries; a shorter preseason when the 17-game season goes into effect, expected to be sometime between 2021 and 2023; authority over punishments for personal conduct violations moved from Commissioner Roger Goodell to a neutral arbitrator; and greatly reduced testing and penalties for marijuana usage.
Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers’ representative for the NFL Players Association, posted a note Wednesday to social media in which he said he voted against the deal as a result of “conversations I have had with the men in my locker room.”
“Although I do see that there are many good things in the proposal that improve the lives and care for past, present, and future NFL players, there are issues with others,” the two-time NFL MVP wrote. Rodgers made it clear that he was opposed to adding a 17th game, and he said that “more offseason recovery time” was not sufficiently addressed.
“The value of our players and the strength of the NFLPA can only be realized, if we ourselves know and believe in our worth,” he wrote. “I respect the democratic nature of this process and have been, and will continue to talk with my teammates on the Packers, and my colleagues across the league.”
Wilson, whose Seahawks have linebacker K.J. Wright serving as their union rep, was more succinct in his message. “The NBA & MLB are doing it right,” he tweeted. “Players come first. ALL NFL players deserve the same.
“WE should not rush the next 10 YEARS for Today’s satisfaction. I VOTE NO.”
In response to Wilson, NFLPA President Eric Winston, a retired offensive lineman, tweeted, “No one is rushing into anything. We have spent the last 300 days listening to our guys and negotiating this deal. The proposal will be sent to all players and if somebody doesn’t like the terms once they’ve seen the entire package, I understand. That’s why every player gets a vote on it and every vote counts.”
Also asserting Wednesday that they would vote “No” were the Minnesota Vikings’ Stefon Diggs and the Baltimore Ravens’ Marlon Humphrey and Robert Griffin III. Tyrann Mathieu of the Kansas City Chiefs appeared to be getting at the same sentiment with a cryptic tweet in which he said, “Can’t use me or abuse me. ain’t going for it.”
The current CBA, which will expire after this year if a new agreement isn’t struck that would supersede it, went into effect in 2011 after a 2½-month lockout. A similar work stoppage could occur in 2021 if the upcoming leaguewide vote fails to ratify the proposed agreement, particularly given that owners have indicated that they would not be receptive to suggestions for major changes.
Maurkice Pouncey, a veteran center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, posted a video (warning: profanity) to social media Wednesday in which he blasted the proposed deal and called upon other well-paid players to offer financial support to younger colleagues in the event of a lockout.
Calling the new CBA “so [expletive] crazy,” Pouncey declared, “I vote no.” He criticized the leaders of the NFLPA, saying that they weren’t “looking out for the best of the players.”
“And if any player on any one of our teams, if you all are hurting for rent money or anything while we go through this lockout, call us!” Pouncey exclaimed in his video. “Man, we got way more money than what they had back in the days. We ain’t got to worry about that. All the vets on each team, stand the [expletive] up. Stand up. Show these guys that we care about them.”
The possibility of a lockout was viewed with far more trepidation by Washington long snapper Nick Sundberg, the union rep for the Redskins. During a lengthy exchange online with Griffin, a former teammate, Sundberg said that the positives of taking the proposed deal “vastly outweigh the negatives,” including the potential loss of “13 billion in player money” if a strike lasted two years.
The agreement would increase players’ share of NFL revenue from 47 percent to 48 percent for a 16-game season and 48.5 percent once the 17-game season goes into effect. To Griffin’s question, “Why not hold out for a 50-50 split of revenue?” Sundberg replied, “Hold out til when? Do you honestly [think] an extra % is worth ripping the deal up?”
“The owners told us if we didn’t get a deal done before now, they wouldn’t negotiate again until February, when we would have to start from scratch,” Sundberg continued. “It took us 10 months of negotiating to get here.”
Sundberg also posited that a “worst case scenario” from a strike could include a much less attractive final offer from the owners, followed by litigation and players crossing picket lines as teams staged games with replacement players.
The NFLPA vote to send the CBA to a leaguewide referendum reflected significant ambivalence among players. It passed by a 17-14 count, with one abstention, after the union’s executive committee voted 6-5 against recommending ratification.
One member of that committee, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, said in late January that he opposed agreeing to a 17-game schedule because team owners would inevitably go on to press for 18 games. He declared at the time that desire for a longer season revealed the “hypocrisy” of owners, whose claims of concern for player safety rang hollow.
On Wednesday, Sherman commented on Rodgers’s lengthy statement by tweeting, “Health and Wellness of our men is always the most important aspect. There is no price you can put on that and that is why I Voted No.”
To a Twitter user who said to him, “I’m sure you realize the owners are still getting paid the tv contracts even through a lockout,” Sherman replied, “I’m sure I understand this negotiation much more than you ever could.”