Collective Bargaining Agreement

NFL To Keep 2020 Roster Rules In Place

The roster flexibility the NFL gave teams amid the COVID-19 pandemic last season will remain in place for the 2021 campaign, according to ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert. The league may go back to its more restrictive standard setup someday, but it will not happen this season.

Teams will have the option of bringing players off injured reserve after three weeks, and there will continue to be no limitations on how many players return from IR per team. Not that long ago, an IR designation meant a player’s season was over. Then, the NFL steadily loosened restrictions on this roster move during the 2010s. Last season, injured players returned to active rosters regularly; they will be in position to do so again this year.

[RELATED: Unvaccinated Players Could Lead To Forfeited Games]

Additionally, practice squads will remain at 16 players. They resided at 10 in 2019, but the pandemic-era change expanded them. Teams also can carry six players with more than two accrued seasons on their respective taxi squads. The 2020 CBA was set to expand practice squads, but they were only slated to be at 12 in 2021. Although this COVID-induced adjustment may not be permanent, more players will have NFL jobs again in 2021.

While teams are not expected to face as many coronavirus-caused roster crunches this season, given the vaccines’ emergence, select players have been placed on reserve/COVID-19 lists to start training camp. As a whole, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes that 16 teams have surpassed the 85% vaccination threshold. That number has been steadily ticking up in the weeks leading to camp. All but five teams are at least 70% vaccinated.

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Key Dates For 2022 NFL Offseason

The NFL and NFL Players Association have scheduled most of their key dates for the 2022 offseason. Here’s the breakdown, via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (Twitter link):

  • Franchise and Transition Tag Period: February 22 — March 8, 2022
  • Start Of 2022 League Year and Free Agency: March 16, 2022 (4pm ET)
  • 2022 NFL Draft: April 28-30, 2022
  • Offseason Workouts: April 4 (for teams with new head coaches); April 18 (for all other teams)
  • Restricted Free Agency Signing Period Ends: April 22, 2022
  • Last Day To Match RFA Offer Sheets: April 27, 2022

The 2022 NFL Draft will take place in Las Vegas, Nevada as a mulligan for the pandemic-altered draft of 2020. On the whole, these dates are in line with the NFL’s usual calendar, save for 2020.

The 2022 salary cap is expected to fall around $208MM, up from this year’s $182.5MM figure. As it stands, the free agent class is slated to include Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt, Bears wide receiver Allen Robinson, and Chiefs offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Of course, for Adams and other stars, there’s still lots of time for an extension to keep them from the open market.

Expanded Practice Squads, Adjusted IR Format Likely To Remain In 2021

The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement calls for a 12-man practice squad in 2021, but the league’s 2020 COVID-19-induced expansion is expected to remain in place this coming season.

Sixteen-man practice squads are likely to stay for 2021, according to NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero (on Twitter). In addition, the 2020 modification that allowed teams more injured reserve flexibility is on track to return as well. Both teams and players supported these tweaks last year, creating momentum for their returns in 2021.

It was not too long ago that an IR designation meant a player was out for the season. The league has slowly allowed loosened the reins in this area, creating multiple IR-return slots during the 2010s. The pandemic, however, prompted the NFL and NFLPA to implement a policy that permitted teams to return players from IR to active rosters after just three weeks. Teams enjoyed an unlimited number of IR transactions in 2020, creating roster flexibility instead of a setup in which certain players needed to remain on IR despite having recovered from their respective injuries.

The CBA was set to expand practice squads to 12 last year and to 14 by 2022, but with the pandemic creating rampant uncertainty regarding player availability, the league’s taxi squads jumped from 10 to 16 from 2019-20. It appears fringe roster candidates will have more opportunities to develop on practice squads again this season.

The league and union remain in negotiations on the coming season’s COVID protocols, Pelissero tweets. The sides gave up on negotiating an offseason program, however, creating a muddled setup for OTAs and minicamps. But the sides appear to be in lockstep on certain fronts, allowing for rare cooperation.

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49ers, Ravens, Saints To Skip Offseason Workouts

The list of teams preparing to move ahead with a virtual offseason program has nearly reached 20. The 49ers, Ravens and Saints joined the brigade Saturday, voicing support of the NFLPA’s call to boycott voluntary workouts.

Teams can begin onsite offseason work Monday, though on-field work cannot begin until May 17. The 49ers’ statement indicated many players will not attend (on Twitter); the Ravens and Saints’ statements did not include this language (Twitter links). John Harbaugh said a second straight year with a virtual offseason would be a “colossal mistake,” via ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley (on Twitter), but the Ravens will proceed in this direction anyway.

Saturday’s three teams (so far) announcing they will not show for the start of the voluntary offseason program makes 19 franchises not expected to attend workouts. However, some players on the first team to stand with the NFLPA — the Broncos — will attend their program, and others are on the fence.

It will be interesting to see if other teams who have seen players vow to stay away see some in their ranks report to workouts. Phase 2 of the offseason program will include a rookie minicamp, which will feature draftees and UDFAs vying to take some veterans’ jobs. The NFL and NFLPA have not reached a resolution on the offseason format, despite the league unilaterally releasing a schedule, but the sides still have some time until on-field work commences. Until then, the NFL will see some teams report to workouts and others stay home.

Here are the teams that are planning to begin a virtual offseason Monday:

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Dolphins, Rams Join Teams Skipping Offseason Workouts

Half the NFL teams have now pledged not to attend voluntary offseason workouts. Well, the bulk of the players on those teams have. The Dolphins and Rams became the latest to do so.

Both teams issued statements Friday, via the NFLPA (on Twitter), indicating their players will not attend the start of the NFL’s offseason workouts. This year’s program is scheduled to start Monday. The Dolphins and Rams are the 15th and 16th teams to have released statements indicating most or all of their players will not be in attendance.

Neither the Dolphins nor the Rams offered the “many players will not attend” caveat, as some teams have, and they will move forward with virtual programs. No on-field work can take place until May 17, the second phase of the offseason itineraries, but teams can begin work at their respective facilities from April 19 through May 14.

Last year, the NFL and NFLPA came to an agreement — in the initial months of the pandemic — the offseason would be entirely virtual. The NFLPA is pushing for that arrangement to continue, even as COVID-19 vaccines are now available. A rookie minicamp will be part of the on-field workouts that begin in Phase 2, so it will be interesting to see how teams’ rookie draftees and UDFAs proceed.

Here are the teams that have issued statements regarding their players’ intention not to attend offseason programs:

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NFL Sets Offseason Workout Schedule; More Teams To Hold Virtual Sessions

The subject of offseason workouts has generated considerable discord this offseason, but teams remain free to begin programs Monday. The NFL also released a schedule for this year’s OTAs, for the teams that intend to participate onsite.

From April 19 to May 14, players can lift in team weight rooms; all meetings during this span will be virtual. May 17 begins a more relevant section of the offseason calendar; teams are permitted to hold noncontact on-field drills over a five-day period, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. The OTA portion of the offseason would begin May 24; teams can hold 10 OTA sessions and a mandatory minicamp from May 24-June 18.

Of course, the number of teams who will exercise these onsite opportunities continues to dwindle. After the Broncos, Seahawks and Buccaneers declared they will go through another virtual offseason, the Lions followed suit Wednesday (Twitter link). The Patriots did as well, though their release indicates “many” team members will not attend onsite workouts (Twitter link). Some Patriots may show up next week. New England led the NFL with eight opt-out players last year.

During the first phase of the offseason schedule, the NFL intends to focus on vaccine education, according to ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano. NFL staffers set to work with players must receive COVID-19 vaccinations; no mandate exists for players, however. Meetings during the third phase of the proposed program could remain virtual, but Graziano adds teams will be allowed to hold in-person meetings at this point — with COVID restrictions — as well.

The NFLPA has continued to push for a second fully virtual offseason program, citing coronavirus concerns, and players on a few teams have stood with the union thus far. More clubs may well follow suit.

Predictably, the union is displeased with the NFL’s proposed schedule. In a letter sent to players tonight, NFLPA executive director De Smith and president J.C. Tretter said that the league’s plan does not address any of the concerns that players have raised, and they continue to encourage players to stay away from team facilities. The full letter can be found here, courtesy of Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network.

The NFL, perhaps in response, issued another memo setting forth one of the benefits of working out at facilities: if a player gets hurt on-site, he will have injury protection. If he gets hurt while working out on his own, he will not. Pelissero has that memo as well.

As the battle of the paperwork rages on, it looks like the NFL may be set for a strange imbalance featuring some teams holding in-person workouts and others not.

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NFLPA President Urges OTA Boycott

No deal has been reached between the NFL and NFLPA regarding how offseason work will be structured, but the union has pushed for a second virtual offseason. Its president would like to drive a hard line here.

Second-year NFLPA president J.C. Tretter said on a call with players Friday he would urge players to boycott OTAs, if no deal is reached by April 19 and teams move to hold onsite work, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. While this would risk workout bonuses, Pelissero notes only around 300 players have such incentives in their contracts for 2021 (Twitter link).

While it is uncertain how much onsite work will take place this offseason, OTAs are expected to resume in some capacity. These are voluntary activities, but teams generally expect most players to attend. They do prove beneficial, particularly to young players aiming to solidify jobs, so a call for an en masse boycott would certainly qualify as a major decision. June minicamps, which have yet to be scheduled for this year, serve as the only mandatory offseason activity. Teams cannot fine players for skipping OTAs. Of course, that would not stop franchises from making different plans at certain positions based on offseason attendance.

Roger Goodell said in February he expected certain virtual elements to remain in place this year. In the weeks since, however, momentum has emerged for onsite work to take place again. With the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting the country and the sports world, the NFLPA has attempted to push back on a return to in-person workouts this spring. Tretter’s boycott call would ratchet this up considerably.

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OTAs Expected To Return This Year

The NFL and NFLPA continue to discuss the parameters of the 2021 offseason. Absent a deal, teams can begin holding onsite workouts April 19. But the agreement between the league and the union should still be expected to include some on-field work this spring.

After last year’s virtual offseason, the 2021 program is expected to feature OTAs at team facilities, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (on Twitter). The NFLPA has pushed back on in-person offseason workouts returning, citing COVID-19 concerns, but a compromise that leads to some on-field work appears to be in the works.

Over the course of the 2011 CBA (prior to 2020), teams began their offseason programs each April. In 2019, teams with new coaches could start their respective programs in early April ahead of May OTAs and June minicamp. Last year, the pandemic nixed every on-field NFL activity until training camp and wiped out the preseason. Teams with new coaches in 2021, as of now, are not expected to have a head-start this year. But after 2020’s fully virtual offseason, coaching staffs will certainly welcome increased opportunities to develop players onsite ahead of training camp.

A full season of daily coronavirus testing stands to provide the league a better blueprint than it possessed at this point last year, but the league and union remain in talks about how this offseason will look. Meetings are expected to remain virtual for the foreseeable future, though teams that reach a certain vaccination level will have their COVID restrictions loosened. The NFL currently is not mandating players be vaccinated but is encouraging them to do so.

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NFL Approves 17-Game Schedule

It’s officially official. On Tuesday, NFL owners formally approved a 17-game schedule for the 2021 season.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement provided owners with the option to go from 16 games to 17 games. Despite substantial player opposition, the union ultimately voted in favor of the change. On the plus side, the extra revenue from a 17th game should help to bring the salary cap back towards its usual max in 2022 and beyond.

To offset the extra game, the NFL will move from a four-game preseason to a two or three-game preseason schedule. The new arrangement will not add another bye week. Meanwhile, the 18-week season will push the Super Bowl to the middle of February.

The additional game will provide an immediate lift in profits for all 32 owners, but that won’t impact this year’s $182.5MM salary cap. In the short run, however, it will yield an extra game check for players league wide.

The new schedule also means a new scheduling formula to account for the odd number of games. The “extra game” will be an inter-conference matchup, pitting AFC and NFC teams against each other in accordance with their divisional finish. Host sites will alternate between the AFC and NFC.

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NFL To Expand To 17-Game Season

It’s happening. In 2021, the NFL will go from a 16-game regular season to a 17-game slate, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. This was the expected move and the league office is expected to make it all official in the coming weeks.

The last round of CBA negotiations provided the NFL with this option, even though many players were opposed. On the plus side, the additional revenue from a 17th game should help to soften the expected drop in the 2021 salary cap. And, to offset the extra game, the NFL will move from a four-game preseason to a two or three-game preseason schedule. The new arrangement will not add another bye week, but the 18-week season will push the Super Bowl to the second week of February.

The new CBA mandates a salary cap floor of $175MM, but the additional game could drive it a bit higher. In any event, the number is expected to fall short of this year’s $198.2MM max. Meanwhile, the league’s new scheduling formula will account for the odd number of games. The “extra game” will be an inter-conference matchup, pitting AFC and NFC teams against each other in accordance with their divisional finish. Host sites will alternate between the AFC and NFC.

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