Collective Bargaining Agreement

COVID-19 Latest: JUCO, SEC, Bidwill, Strike

While the JUCO circuit resides several levels away from the NFL, the National Junior College Athletic Association announced a major move Monday. The junior college football season will now take place in the spring, the NJCAA announced. While the Ivy League was the first to postpone its football season, it did not say spring football was a go. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have opted to play conference-only schedules amid the pandemic, but the latter has discussed a move to the spring. Junior colleges playing in the spring will not directly affect the NFL, but it marks the latest big step a football organization has taken amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Monday, the NFL has made no changes to its training camp plan. Most teams are set to open camp to all players July 28, but given the uncertainty the recent coronavirus spikes have caused, it would not surprise if the NFL had to adjust its schedule at some point soon.

Here is the latest from the league’s effort to navigate the pandemic.

  • Despite multiple Power 5 conferences making changes to their schedules, the SEC is holding out. The conference will wait until late July to make a decision on how to proceed with its football season, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said (via Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman, on Twitter). Most states housing SEC schools broke records for coronavirus cases in the past two weeks, with Florida’s Sunday case load (15,300) surpassing all of Europe’s that day.
  • Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill has been released from the hospital, the team announced. Bidwill contracted the coronavirus and spent time at a Newport, R.I., hospital. The 55-year-old owner has not been in face-to-face contact with Cardinals coaches or players since the pandemic began.
  • A few key issues loom before the NFL and NFLPA can sign off on a return-to-work edict — the 2021 salary cap, the preseason slate, testing and opt-out protocols being among the main hurdles to clear — but Tony Pauline of ProFootballNetwork.com tweets bonuses are also a sticking point. Players are concerned in-season COVID-19 contractions will result in missed money from per-game roster bonuses, and Pauline adds the NFL and NFLPA are discussing that matter. Players who contract the virus in-season would miss at least a game and possibly more, given the various quarantine policies the NFL has unveiled.
  • During Friday’s NFLPA meeting multiple questions emerged regarding a strike, per veteran NFL reporter Josina Anderson (on Twitter). This pertained to players’ concerns about being asked to return to work without the NFL providing concrete COVID answers. However, the NFLPA will not opt to strike, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes. A strike would give the league the opportunity to pull the plug on the recently agreed-upon CBA, which was sent out for a vote before the pandemic changed the league’s financial standing. While the league believes it can unilaterally implement training camp rules, Florio adds that it is working with the NFLPA to avoid a grievance from the players’ side.

NFL To Allow 3 Players To Return From IR

On Thursday, NFL owners voted to allow three players to return from injured reserve each season, as Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. Previously, teams were capped at two IR-DTR spots each.

The rule change makes plenty of sense given the current climate. And, once things go back to normal, it would probably make sense for the league to keep it in place. With playoff expansion and regular season expansion on the horizon, the already staggering injury totals will jump even higher. The ability to bring an extra player back from IR should help to offset some of those losses.

The league’s IR-DTR rule has gone through a few transformations since its first introduction. At the outset, teams were only allowed to bring back one player per year and they had to make the designation in advance. Later, the designation was eliminated. Then, in 2017, teams were permitted to return two players from IR each season, rather than just one.

Per the last set of rules, a player must be on IR for a minimum of six weeks before practicing. After that, the player can return to live action two weeks later, making it a minimum eight-week IR stay. Those conditions, presumably, will remain.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Broncos, Ravens, Madden

It was a disappointing offseason for defensive lineman Shelby Harris, who ended up re-signing with the Broncos on a one-year deal worth $3.25MM. Harris is coming off a career-year where he started all 16 games and had a career-high six sacks and nine passes defended, so he was expecting a big payday in free agency. His market wasn’t what he anticipated, so he ended up back in Denver on a prove-it deal. Harris himself even used that language when explaining his thought process in a recent interview with Mike Klis of Denver 9 News (Twitter link).

Well, after the numbers weren’t what we wanted, I felt like let’s do another 1-yr/ prove it to prove I can do it again and be able to hit the market again next year or re-up with the Broncos. Just another chance to go prove myself,” Harris explained. The 28-year-old had previously expressed that due to his age, he felt like this was his one shot at a big contract. Harris came out of nowhere, and has been a nice success story. A seventh-round pick of the Raiders out of Illinois State in 2014, he appeared in only eight games his first two years and spent 2016 out of the league. He suddenly emerged as a part-time starter with Denver in 2017, and has been a key player for them ever since.

Here’s more from around the league on a quiet Sunday night:

  • After the Ravens’ deal for Michael Brockers fell through due to concerns over his ankle, they immediately started looking for defensive line help elsewhere. They ended up signing former Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe, and they were apparently interested in Ndamukong Suh before he re-signed with the Bucs. Now we’ve got word of one more defensive lineman they discussed, as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports tweets they were also talking with Mike Daniels. This is the first we’ve heard of interest in Daniels this offseason, and it’s not that surprising that the 2017 Pro Bowler’s market has been quiet given that his past two campaigns have been cut short due to injury. After getting released by the Packers last summer the Iowa product signed a one-year, $9.1MM deal with the Lions, but he ended up appearing in only nine games with two starts before landing on injured reserve. Now on the wrong side of 30, he probably won’t get too much guaranteed money wherever he ends up.
  • With the new CBA approved, every NFL player is getting one under the radar bonus. Players will now be sent their last couple of ‘Madden checks,’ which had been held back in a fund for a potential work stoppage, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network tweets. Active players will get $17.6K for 2017 and $16.9K for 2018 for their participation in the popular video game, Pelissero reports, with $1K for practice squad players. The payments for the 2019 season will be sent out this fall, he notes.

NFL To Vote On Expanded Playoffs

The NFL Draft will commence on April 23rd as planned, and so will the league’s push towards an expanded postseason. Next week, owners will vote on the proposed 14-team playoff via conference call, as Judy Battista of NFL.com tweets.

[RELATED: 2020 NFL Draft Still On For April 23-25]

On the call, the owners will also hash out some other pending league matters. Potential changes to the in-game rules, however, will likely be held for a later date. That’ll likely take place at the league meeting, which is presently slated for mid-may in Los Angeles.

The proposed postseason would include seven teams from each conference, with only one bye being awarded in the AFC and NFC. The other three divisional winners, meanwhile, would partake in Wild Card weekend with home field advantage.

The new playoff system will almost certainly be ratified for the 2020 season. It’s one of many changes on the way, thanks to the brand new collective bargaining agreement. In the not-too-distant-future (perhaps as early as 2021), the league is also expected to add an extra game to the regular season.

Players Approve Collective Bargaining Agreement

The votes are in. Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter), NFL players have ratified the proposed collective bargaining agreement, signaling another era of labor peace between the union and the league. The new CBA will run through the 2030 season.

The final count was incredibly close. About 80% of dues-paying players made their voices heard — which, as Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com tweets, was more than many expected — and 1,019 players voted to approve against 959 votes to reject. The prospect of playing out the 2020 season under the old CBA was very real, and that could have resulted in a work stoppage in 2021.

There is plenty to unpack here, but we have been covering the CBA negotiations from Day 1, so by clicking the “Collective Bargaining Agreement” tag at the bottom of this article, you can read through all of our CBA-related posts to see exactly what this agreement means for the league. However, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out a few highlights:

  • The playoffs will expand to seven teams per conference in 2020;
  • We will see a 17-game season at some point in the near future, perhaps as early as 2021;
  • There will be an increase in minimum salaries;
  • Players will obtain a bigger share of the league’s total revenue (48-48.5%);
  • Rosters will expand from 53 to 55 players (with active rosters increasing from 46 to 48 players). However, the two extra players will be practice squad players;
  • Practice squads will expand from 10 to 14 players;
  • Fifth-year options for first-round picks from 2018 forward will be fully-guaranteed (not guaranteed for injury only), will be based on performance, and can be as high as the franchise tag number for the player’s position;
  • All pension amounts increase by 10%;
  • There will be no marijuana-related suspensions.

This also means that teams who would have been permitted to use the franchise and transition tags in 2020 (namely, the Cowboys and Titans) will now only be able to use one of those tags. On the flip-side, cap-strapped teams like the Saints can release players and spread their dead money hit over two seasons by designating such players as post-June 1 cuts. Likewise, it will be much easier for teams to spend cash in free agency now, because they can push cap charges into future years.

Furthermore, the league has now set the 2020 salary cap at $198.2MM. That is lower than what some expected, but still a $10MM increase over the 2019 figure. Larger jumps are expected in 2021 and beyond, and now the league can focus on securing new TV deals, which will only increase the total pie.

The complicating factor in all of this, of course, is the coronavirus pandemic that has had a wide-reaching impact throughout the sports world. The league did not want to make any changes to its schedule prior to the CBA vote, but now that the CBA has been approved, the league and union will discuss delaying the start of free agency. As of right now, the legal tampering period is slated to open tomorrow, March 16, with free agency set to open on Wednesday, March 18.

The NFLPA’s statement on the vote can be found here. Commissioner Roger Goodell‘s statement can be found here. Dan Graziano of ESPN.com also does an excellent job of analyzing the key points of the new CBA.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

One Agent Claims 28 Of 30 Clients Voted For CBA

The deadline for players to vote on the NFL’s proposed extension to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is tonight at midnight. While it is far from a scientific exit poll, one agent tells Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports that 28 of his 30 clients voted in favor of the proposal. La Canfora adds that “a good portion of his clients are rank-and-file guys and not superstars.”

As has been well covered since the league surprisingly approved this proposal at the start of the month, many of the league’s stars and most prominent players strongly oppose the deal. However, the league keenly pandered to more rank-and-file players and if La Canfora’s report proves to be somewhat representative of the final tally, they appear poised to carry the vote to an approval.

It would be a shockingly early resolution to labor negotiations that were expected to be one of the nastiest disputes in league history. Both the league and player leaders have been advising their members for some time to brace themselves for a work stoppage after the coming NFL season. Instead, the current deal seems poised to never actually expire.

Latest On NFL’s CBA Talks

The deadline for the NFLPA’s CBA vote has not been changed, as Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. The union is still asking for all votes to be submitted by 11:59 pm ET on Saturday. And, on Thursday morning, the NFLPA sent out an email to agents everywhere with the following message: “Please encourage your player clients to exercise their right to vote.”

Meanwhile, offseason plans have been thrown into flux. The league is discussing potential changes to the NFL Draft, slated to take place on April 23-25 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The NFLPA is also doing its due diligence – they’ll have a conference call with medical experts on Friday to assess the situation and determine what steps need to be taken on their end (via Mike Florio of PFT). So far, no announcements have been made regarding restrictions on the travel, workouts, and conferences that are scheduled to take place in the offseason. And, in the midst of everything, the two sides are working to hammer out a brand new CBA that will ensure labor peace for another decade.

On the union side, the NFLPA recently elected Browns center J.C. Tretter as its new president. Tretter was one of four players in the running to take over for Eric Winston and that field was basically whittled down to three when Russell Okung – entangled in some other issues – backed out.

Extra Points: Bennett, NFLPA, Cap, Kirksey

Although Michael Bennett went through a nomadic late-2010s stretch after the Seahawks traded him in 2018, he remained productive. The veteran defensive lineman has registered 15.5 sacks over the past two seasons and is a free agent for the first time since 2013. Bennett, who signed with the Seahawks in 2013, would like to return to the team to which he’s most linked. Asked if he would want to play for the Seahawks again, the 34-year-old defender said “hard yes.” Bennett, though, has not yet committed to playing a 12th NFL season.

I would love to end my career in Seattle,” Bennett said, via Joe Fann of NBC Sports Northwest. “It’s not up to you, though. It’s up to the team.”

The Seahawks gave Bennett two contracts, including a three-year, $31.5MM extension in 2016. That contract was set to run through 2020, but after the Eagles and Patriots traded him, Bennett and the Cowboys restructured the deal to direct him toward free agency this year. Seattle has most of its pass rushers — including Jadeveon Clowney and Jarran Reed — as impending free agents, so the franchise will have critical decisions to make in the next week and change.

Here is the latest from around the league, moving first to the reconfigured NFLPA:

  • Russell Okung has enjoyed an eventful March, being traded from the Chargers to the Panthers and filing an unfair labor practice charge at the NFLPA staff. As for Okung’s status with the union, he will no longer be part of the NFLPA’s executive committee, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. Okung dropped his bid for NFLPA president, throwing support behind Michael Thomas in a race that went to Browns center J.C. Tretter. Both of the players Tretter beat out for the job — Thomas and linebacker Sam Acho — will stay on as executive committee members.
  • Calais Campbell, Malcolm Jenkins and Wesley Woodyard will replace Mark Herzlich, Zak DeOssie and Adam Vinatieri on the executive committee. They will join Tretter, Acho, Thomas, Richard Sherman, Ben Watson, Alex Mack, Lorenzo Alexander and Thomas Morstead on the 11-man committee, the union announced.
  • Rumblings about the salary cap rising to around $230MM by 2021 have surfaced, but the 2020 cap will not move too far from the previously estimated $200MM amount. If the players approve the CBA proposal, the highest the cap would surge to in 2020 would be $206MM, per Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic (subscription required). While the salary ceiling could climb significantly by 2023, if the league’s TV negotiations go well, those spikes will not come until at least 2021.
  • Christian Kirksey may have a chance to land on his feet before free agency. Recently released by the Browns, the veteran linebacker has three visits scheduled, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com tweets. Kirksey’s travel itinerary is not yet known, but the 27-year-old defender’s first visit is scheduled for Wednesday morning.
  • The Texans will take a look at a notable wide receiver soon. They will work out former Broncos rotational cog Jordan Taylor, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle notes. Taylor has not played since the 2017 season. He spent 2018 on the Broncos’ PUP list, and though he caught on with the Vikings last year, the 28-year-old target did not see game action.

Extra Points: Tagovailoa, CBA, Chris Harris

One of the biggest stories of the 2020 draft is the health of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa of course suffered a brutal hip injury toward the end of the college football season that threatened to derail his pro career. Fortunately everything has gone smoothly with his recovery up until now, and he got another solid update recently. Tagovailoa had his four-month scans on the hip, something that was always considered a very important marker in the process, and everything went well, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link).

Sources told Rapoport that the scans came back “very good with no concerns” and that they were “as positive as possible.” Rapoport notes that with this scan out of the way, Tagavailoa will now be able to ramp up his physical activity. It’s unclear when exactly he’ll be able to play again, but at the very least he’ll miss a good portion of the offseason program of whatever team drafts him. Despite the concerns over his hip, he still seems very likely to be off the board early in the first round, and potentially within the first few picks. Here’s to hoping everything continues to progress nicely and we see him back on the field soon.

Here’s more from around the football universe:

  • Another under the radar concession the players got in the new proposed CBA is a significant increase in offseason pay. Starting in 2021 the rates players are paid for minicamp and the preseason will go from $2K a week to $2.9K a week for veterans, and from $1.15K a week to $1.7K a week for rookies, according to Mike Klis of Denver 9 News (Twitter link). Klis also reports that every other year those numbers will increase an additional $300 per week for veterans and $150 per week for rookies. Many undrafted rookies who are part of the offseason 90-man roster but don’t stand any chance of making the team barely get anything for their efforts, so this will at least put a little additional cash in their pockets during training camp.
  • Chris Harris is looking for a big payday this offseason, and it looks like the cornerback won’t be back with the Broncos next year. In preparation for his first testing of the open market, the veteran fired his agent Fred Lyles and signed with a bigger firm, according to Nicki Jhabvala of The Athletic. Ironically Jhabvala notes that Lyles also represents cornerback A.J. Bouye, who Denver just traded for to essentially replace Harris. Harris has always been a top corner but he’s now on the wrong side of 30, so it’ll be very interesting to see what his market looks like. He turned down an extension offer of $12MM annually from the Broncos last year.
  • In case you missed it, the NFL pushed back the franchise tag deadline as CBA talks continue to drag on.

NFLPA Elects J.C. Tretter As President

The NFL Players’ Association has elected J.C. Tretter as its new president, the union announced on Tuesday. Last week, Tretter was one of four players nominated for the position. Now, he’ll spearhead the NFLPA during a critical stretch in the CBA talks. 

Last week, NFLPA’s presidential race came down to Russell Okung, Michael Thomas (of the Giants), Sam Acho, and Tretter. Okung has been lobbying for the job for months, but he backed out of the running this week and put his support behind Thomas.

Tretter, a center for the Browns, will take over for Eric Winston, who has served as the union prez since 2014. There will be little time for on-the-job training: The NFLPA has until Saturday to vote on the proposed CBA and travel hazards associated with the coronavirus scare may complicate things further. Meanwhile, we’re also just days away from the official start of NFL free agency.

If more than 50% of players vote against the CBA, the 2020 season will be played under the current CBA, which was established in 2011. That CBA expires in March 2021. If the proposed CBA is not ratified, we’ll be looking at increased odds of a strike or lockout next year.

In the last round of voting, Thomas and Okung both voted against the CBA, Acho voted in favor of it, and, in the immediate aftermath, no one knew Tretter’s take. But, on Tuesday, PFT’s Mike Florio (via Twitter) reported that Tretter voted in favor of the CBA. With that in mind, Tretter’s election may bode well for a deal between now and Saturday.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.