NFL players narrowly ratified a collective bargaining agreement that will deliver 10-years of labor peace, increase the revenue share for the players, expand the regular season to 17 games, and the playoff field from 12 teams to 14.
A 10-day voting period closed Saturday night and the proposed deal, which had the league’s workforce split between the have and the have nots, approved the new agreement that features numerous changes which should benefit both parties and the America’s most profitable professional sport.
If the players had rejected the proposed CBA, both sides would have likely intensified preparations for a possible work stoppage in 2021. With the new deal done, the NFL has set the 2020 salary cap at $198.2 million and teams are preparing to begin signing free agents.
“NFL players have voted to approve ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement by a vote tally of 1,019 to 959,” the NFLPA announced, pointing out that the deal was approved by 51.5 percent with more than 500 players declining to vote. “This comes after a long and democratic process in accordance with our constitution. An independent auditor received submitted ballots through a secure electronic platform, then verified, tallied and certified the results.”
The regular season will increase from 16 to 17 games between the 2021 and 2023 seasons, and the preseason will be reduced, to three exhibitions per team.
When the 17-game season begins, teams are expected to alternate between a season with nine home games and a season with eight home games. All 16 teams in a conference will likely have the same number of home games.
Under the expanded playoffs, seven teams in each conference will qualify for the postseason instead of the current six-team format. Only one team per conference will be given a first-round bye, down from two. That means there will be six opening-round games league-wide, three in each conference instead of four total.
Players are expected to get a higher share of the league’s revenue from 47% to 48% starting in 2021. The revenue split will increase to 48.5 percent when a new television deal is negotiated by the owners. Over the course of a decade, the deal could potentially produce an increase of $1.6 billion going from the owners to the players.
The new CBA will immediately raise salaries for lower-end players by $100,000, and benefits from medical care, pensions, annuities, 401K contributions for retired and active players will be significantly increased.
Teams’ cash spending would be required to grow to 90 percent of the cap (it is at 87 percent in the current agreement), which means even more money would go to the players.
Under the new deal, players will receive a share of revenue related to legal gambling operations in stadiums.
From the technical aspects, an additional player will be designated to return from injury, increasing the total from two to three.
Active rosters increase from 46 to 48 players on game day, with eight offensive linemen needed.
Practice squads expand from 10 to 12 players in 2020, and will increase to 14 in 2022, and teams would be allowed to have four players on it with unlimited years of experience.
The weekly practice squad salary will increase from $8,400 in 2020 to $9,200 in 2021, $11,400 in 2022 and continue to increase thereafter. Practice squad players are also eligible for 401K benefits and tuition reimbursement.
There is an emphasis on clinical care over punishment for players who tests positive for banned substances. Marijuana use will not result in a suspension by the NFL, and the annual testing is limited to the first two weeks of training camp.
DIU discipline has moved from a two-game suspension to a three-game suspension.
The NFL commissioner shifts his powers of punishment to a jointly-selected Neutral Arbitrator for initial decisions on discipline under the personal conduct policy.
No more than 10 international games in any season will be allowed through 2025, thereafter the parties will meet and the NFLPA has “reasonable approval rights.”
If an NFL team plays more than one international game in any season it shall pay a player a $5,000 stipend for each international game.
The pay for organized team actives, minicamp and training camp work would also increase slightly.
On top of that, there’d be an increase in the performance-based pay provisions that can often add up to a six-figure bump in income.
“We are pleased that the players have voted to ratify the proposed new CBA, which will provide substantial benefits to all current and retired players, increase jobs, ensure continued progress on player safety, and give fans more and better football,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We appreciate the tireless effort of the members of the Management Council Executive Committee and the NFLPA leadership, both of whom devoted nearly a year to detailed, good faith negotiations to reach this comprehensive, transformative agreement.”
The league year, which kicks off with the start of free agency -- is scheduled to begin on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Teams can begin negotiating contracts with players and their agents on Monday at 4 p.m. if the two sides decide not to push back the start of the league year, which is a possibility because of the coronavirus pandemic.
An announcement on the league’s plans for free agency and April’s NFL draft is expected soon. Last week the NFL shut down draft visits with teams, and canceled the league’s spring meetings, which was scheduled to take place later this month in Palm Beach.
The league and owners can now move quickly to negotiate a new set of broadcasting deals with television networks and streaming partners, and the fact they have additional inventory to sell will likely bring in more money to an industry which already brings in $11 billion annually.
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