The vote of the player reps was 29-3, the NFLPA announced.
“Training camps will begin as scheduled,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement, in which he reiterated the league’s hopes for a full and on-time season.
“We have worked collaboratively to develop a comprehensive set of protocols designed to minimize risk for fans, players, and club and league personnel,” Goodell said. “These plans have been guided by the medical directors of the NFL and the NFLPA and have been reviewed and endorsed by independent medical and public health experts, including the CDC, and many state and local public health officials. The season will undoubtedly present new and additional challenges, but we are committed to playing a safe and complete 2020 season, culminating with the Super Bowl.”
Owners mulled halting training camps and sending players home if no deal was struck, a person familiar with the league’s inner workings said Thursday. They also considered, according to the league-owned NFL Network, making camps entirely virtual to keep players off the field until the economic issues were resolved.
But the league and union avoided such a shutdown with their settlement, which amounted to an amending of some collective bargaining agreement terms. Players began reporting to training camps this week. Those players underwent coronavirus testing but have not been permitted to enter training facilities yet under the NFL’s health protocols. For most teams, veterans are scheduled to report Tuesday.
Under the terms of the agreement, the salary cap for the 2020 season remains the same, $198.2 million. The salary cap for the 2021 season will drop no lower than $175 million. There had been fears that the 2021 salary cap would fall below $130 million based on a significant drop in revenue this season.
Players are paid a percentage of league revenue under the salary cap system, and the NFLPA previously told agents that revenue could drop by $3 billion this season if games are played entirely without fans. The expected salary cap shortfall in 2021 will be addressed, under the agreement, by “borrowing” from future salary caps through the 2024 season.
Players will be paid a prorated portion of their salaries for the 2020 season if the regular season starts but cannot be completed. That issue had been considered crucial by the owners to contain their potential costs in an abbreviated season. A person familiar with the NFLPA’s position said earlier Friday that the union did not seek to have players paid their full salaries if the regular season is cut short. There is a complex formula in the agreement by which some funds, from any unpaid player benefits or salaries guaranteed in players’ contracts, could be recouped.
The settlement calls for a 20-day acclimation period for players, after they report to camps, before any contact in practice. Owners ratified the elimination of all preseason games this year, to which the league previously agreed. The settlement includes a two-tiered plan allowing players to opt out of playing this season. Any player can opt out by Aug. 3 and receive a $150,000 stipend; there is a separate opt-out plan, for players with health risks, with a $350,000 stipend. Practice squads will be increased to 16 players, and four of those players can be protected weekly from being acquired by another team willing to promote that player to its active roster.
Players who make season-opening rosters will receive stipends of $300,000 each if the regular season is canceled before it begins. Teams have two roster options — they can either have an 80-player roster, or they can keep a 90-player roster in a split-squad format and reduce to 80 players by Aug. 16.
The league and union previously agreed to health and safety measures, but their deliberations stalled temporarily on the economic matters, leading the owners to consider shutting down training camps. It’s not clear to what extent that threat added urgency to the negotiations as the league and union moved toward Thursday night’s settlement.
The agreement between the NFL and NFLPA also contains restrictions on what it calls “High-Risk COVID-19 Conduct.” Such conduct is defined by the agreement as: attending an indoor night club; attending an indoor bar other than for food pickup; attending an indoor house party with more than 15 people; attending an indoor concert or entertainment event; attending a pro sporting event other than applicable NFL games; or attending an indoor religious service with more than 25 percent capacity.
A team can discipline a player for conduct detrimental to the team for engaging in any of those behaviors; a player could appeal any such penalty. Or a team could challenge that a player diagnosed with coronavirus suffered what would generally be classified a football-related injury (meaning the player would be paid while sidelined) with a grievance contending that the player’s diagnosis resulted from one of the listed high-risk behaviors.
Kansas City Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who graduated from medical school in 2018 and has been working this offseason as an orderly at a long-term care facility in Canada, announced Friday night that he would opt out of the season, becoming the first NFL player to do so.
“Being at the frontline during this offseason has given me a different perspective on this pandemic and the stress it puts on individuals and our healthcare system,” he wrote on Twitter. “I cannot allow myself to potentially transmit the virus in our communities simply to play the sport that I love. If I am to take risks, I will do it caring for patients.”