Collective Bargaining Agreement

NFL, NFLPA Announce Pro Bowl Replacement Format

With the Pro Bowl as we know it going away, the structure of the retooled event came into focus Thursday. The NFL and NFLPA announced an early version of what will be replacing the decades-long all-star game.

Calling it a “replacement event,” the league and the union announced the players selected will be required to participate (barring injury). That marks a change from the 2020 CBA, which indicated participation in a Pro Bowl replacement voluntary. While it is worth speculating whether the term “Pro Bowler” will remain in place, it will be interesting to see if nearly as many alternates will be named compared to the recent past, which saw numerous primary and auxiliary alternate players given Pro Bowl invites.

A series of skills challenges — including dodgeball, quarterback drills, “best catch” and “thread the needle” — will take place during the usual Pro Bowl week. On the Sunday before Super Bowl LVII, a seven-on-seven flag football event will be held. Only skill-position players, as is the case in seven-on-seven sessions, will participate in that game. Other skill-related activities, presumably for linemen and specialists, will be on tap for that revamped Sunday.

Players representing the conference declared the winner — based on various scores from the skills events — will receive $84K, while the losing conference’s all-stars will collect $42K. To receive a share, players must participate in the Sunday event and at least one game-week event. This is unchanged from the shares players would receive for Pro Bowl participation.

The Pro Bowl had been in place since 1938, but as the exhibition declined in popularity, calls for its end came for several years. Starters frequently bowed out, and the game’s effort level was understandably not comparable to regular contests. In 2016, an NFL-record 135 players were named Pro Bowlers, due to the number of alternates needed to be invited to ensure full rosters, while ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert adds 125 were summoned in 2017. The alternate count led to the “Pro Bowler” label losing luster. The skills challenge week, or however it will be referred this year, almost certainly will not need that many players to fill out rosters, perhaps leading to a more consistent number of all-stars each year.

Key Dates On 2022-23 NFL Calendar

The NFL recently announced important dates for the remainder of 2022 on through the 2023 offseason. Here are some dates to file away during these periods:

Key dates remaining on the 2022 NFL calendar:

  • Franchise tag extension deadline: July 15, 2022
  • Deadline for players given UFA tenders to sign with other teams: July 22
  • Roster cutdown from 90 to 85 players: August 16
  • Roster cutdown to 80 players: August 23
  • Roster cutdown to 53 players: 3pm CT, August 30
  • Post-cutdown waiver claims due: 11am CT, August 31
  • NFL trade deadline: 3pm CT, November 1
  • Vested veterans (if cut) become subject to waivers: November 2
  • Deadline for franchise-tagged players to sign tenders: November 15

Key dates for the 2023 offseason:

  • Franchise and transition tag period: February 21-March 7, 2023
  • Legal tampering period: March 13-15
  • Start of 2023 league year and free agency: 3pm CT, March 15
  • Offseason workouts: April 3 (for teams with new head coaches); April 17 (for all other teams)
  • Restricted free agency signing period ends: April 21
  • Last day to match RFA offer sheets: April 26
  • 2023 NFL draft: April 27-29
  • Deadline to exercise fifth-year options: May 1

The NFL is again using the three-tiered cutdown structure, using the 90-to-85-to-80-to-53 setup for a second straight year. The in-season deadline pertaining to tagged players has not been a storyline since Le’Veon Bell‘s 2018 holdout, which led to the first skipped season by a tagged performer in 20 years. Jessie Bates (Bengals), Orlando Brown Jr. (Chiefs), Mike Gesicki (Dolphins) and Dalton Schultz (Cowboys) remain attached to the tag. Anyone who has not signed their tender would be prohibited from playing this season if unsigned by the mid-November date. Gesicki and Schultz have signed their tenders.

Justin Houston is the only player still attached to a UFA tender, which the Ravens assigned last month. He has until July 22 to sign with another team. Otherwise, the Ravens will have exclusive negotiating rights until November 15, when Houston must sign or be prevented from playing in 2022.

Next year’s draft will take place in Kansas City, Missouri. On the whole, the 2023 dates are in line with the NFL’s usual offseason calendar.

After its second-ever decline, in 2021, the salary cap is expected to balloon from its $208.2MM 2022 perch. Free agents can begin official negotiations with other teams beginning at 11am CT on March 13. No deals can become official until the start of the 2023 league year two days later.

Wide receivers represent some of next year’s franchise tag candidates. D.K. Metcalf, Deebo Samuel and Terry McLaurin are entering contract years. Although the Seahawks, 49ers and Commanders, respectively, want to extend the pass catchers, the tag represents a last-ditch option. Next year will represent the third offseason for the usage- and performance-based fifth-year option system, which features fully guaranteed options.

Latest On WR Odell Beckham Jr.

Recent Super Bowl LVI champion Odell Beckham Jr. is facing free agency this offseason. Beckham has expressed his desire to remain in Los Angeles and the Rams let it be known that the feeling was mutual

Unfortunately, Beckham suffered a torn ACL in the Rams’ Super Bowl victory. The knee injured was the same one Beckham injured in the 2020 season. The re-injury combined with the late timing of the injury should lead to Beckham missing time in the 2022 NFL season.

Normally, a player with an expiring contract like Beckham’s would be out of luck, as they wouldn’t be eligible for injury protection. But, due to pending arbitration between the league and the union, Beckham may end up qualifying for the protection.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement provides injury protection for players with non-guaranteed salaries in the season after they suffer an injury that prevents them from playing. When Beckham was injured, although he was technically headed to free agency, he had future years on his contract.

The purpose of the future years was to spread out Beckham’s cap hit. He signed a fully guaranteed one-year deal for $1.25MM. The contract would be paid out as a base salary in 2021 of $750,000 with a $500,000 signing bonus. The signing bonus was structured to pay out $100,000 annually over the next five years. The first $100,000 would count against the Rams’ 2021 cap along with the base salary. The remaining $400,000 would count against the Rams’ 2022 cap space.

The arbitration mentioned above is over whether or not those voided years in Beckham’s contract could make him eligible for the CBA’s injury protection. The injury protection would entitle Beckham to a salary up to $2MM. In the voided contract, Beckham’s base salary for 2022 is $1.12MM, meaning that, if the arbitration rules in favor of Beckham, Beckham will receive the entirety of that amount.

The good news is that, even if the arbitration rules against him, Beckham’s 2021 contract had $3MM worth of team-based incentives built in, and, en route to winning the Super Bowl, Beckham cashed in on every single incentive.

Still, this all is hypothetical. In theory, knowing the Rams would like to keep Beckham in LA, and acknowledging the crucial role he played in adding the Lombardi to their trophy room, the Rams will give Beckham a deal indicative of his contributions, despite not being legally obligated to do so.

NFL To Allow HC Interviews On Dec. 28

NFL owners have voted to allow head coaching interviews in the final two weeks of the regular season (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero). This will be conducted as a one-year trial, beginning on Tuesday, December 28.

[RELATED: Jaguars’ Khan On Urban Meyer]

The league’s previous rule set prevented employed NFL coaches from interviewing in the final weeks of the season. The new rule may allow teams to accelerate the process, though the current employer still reserves the right to refuse any request.

In the near-term, this resolution could impact the Jaguars who are surely having second thoughts about head coach Urban Meyer. For what it’s worth, owner Shad Khan says he won’t make any rash decisions.

I want to do the right thing for the team. I want to do the right thing for the city,” Khan said this week. “That, to me, is way more important than just acting helter-skelter on emotion. I think we have a history of really looking at the facts and then really doing the right thing.”

The Bears (Matt Nagy), Giants (Joe Judge), and Vikings (Mike Zimmer) could also take advantage of this new wrinkle.

NFL’s 2022 Salary Cap To Reach $208.2MM

December 14th, 6:58pm: The NFL has officially informed clubs that the 2022 cap will indeed be projected at $208.2MM, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (via Twitter).

December 5th, 3:02pm: Back in May, the NFL and NFL Players Association met in May and agreed to a salary cap for the 2022 season of $208.2MM. There was some speculation that the numbers may change based on a few different factors, and while the official, final number has not been announced, Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero report that it’s expected to be revealed at the NFL’s annual labor seminar next week that the cap will indeed reach the all-time high mark of $208.2MM.

The league’s previous high was in 2020 at $198.2MM. The cap had shown consistent growth each year with an average annual increase from 2013-2020 of $10.74MM per year. This trend was disrupted by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic which caused a loss of gate revenue and other income for the league. Because of those setbacks, the salary cap was reduced to $182.5MM for the 2021 season. The nearly $16MM cap reduction is not a complete reflection of the revenue lost by the NFL last year, since the NFL and NFLPA came to an agreement to spread out the anticipated losses over several years, as opposed to incurring it all at once.

The $10MM increase from the league’s previous high is about what the league expected the 2021 salary cap to rise to before the pandemic. This return to the expected increase doesn’t necessarily reflect a return to normalcy. It’s more of a sign of what may be to come as the losses from last year are already being offset by a potential increase in future revenue. The NFL is seeing, and will continue to see, an increase in revenue from the addition of a 17th game in the regular season, expanded playoffs, an influx of new gambling money, new TV deals, and many other new revenue streams.

It is even expected that the 2023 season will see another significant increase to the salary cap. The NFLPA is still recovering, paying back the league for what was essentially a low-interest loan that allowed players to continue making full salaries and bonuses last year, in addition to paying back players for benefits that were canceled in 2020, like performance-based pay, Pro Bowl pay, and tuition pay. But an increase is still to be expected when media “kickers” from the 2020 collective bargaining agreements are put into effect as money comes in from new TV deals. The “kickers” should increase the players’ share of revenue from 48% to as high as 48.8%.

The biggest takeaway from all of this should be that the moves and decisions made by both the league and the union show confidence that the league is done being affected financially by the global pandemic and that both sides are doing everything they can to protect the players from feeling that financial burden.

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.

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.

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:

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: