Collective Bargaining Agreement

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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Coaches, GMs, Schedule, OTAs

After the NFL expanded the Rooney Rule this offseason, it has a “ready list” of minority candidates for head coaching jobs, offensive and defensive coordinator positions and GM candidates, according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. Beyond some of the big names — Eric Bieniemy, Marvin Lewis, Todd Bowles, Leslie Frazier among them — coaches like Clemson OC Tony Elliott, Penn State HC James Franklin and Michigan State HC Mel Tucker appear on the HC portion of the list. On the GM side, some first-time candidates include Bills pro scouting director Malik Boyd, Raiders pro scouting director Dwayne Joseph, Ravens exec Vincent Newsome and Chargers player personnel director JoJo Wooden. Former Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson — now the franchise’s pro scouting director — also appears on the GM portion of the list. The Rooney Rule now mandates teams interview two minority HC candidates and expanded the rule to include coordinator positions. Franchises must also open their senior-level executive jobs to minority and female candidates.

Here is the latest from around the league:

  • Normal NFL offseasons feature several weeks’ worth of OTAs preceding a June minicamp, but the NFLPA would like a schedule that looks closer to this year’s virtual offseason. Union executive director DeMaurice Smith said “there is absolutely no reason” for the NFL to return to full-scale OTAs, per Sports Business Daily’s Ben Fischer (subscription required). Having seen no decline in performance after this atypical offseason, union president J.C. Tretter agrees with Smith. This would be a stretch for coaching staffs, which have steadily seen their time with players cut back. The past two CBA agreements have significantly limited offseason and padded training camp workouts, and 2020’s COVID-19-altered offseason created steeper acclimation challenges for young players.
  • The NFL has agreed to a formula for its 17th regular-season game, making it increasingly likely this season will be the last one of the 16-game era. In what will be the first shift to the league’s scheduling setup since 2002, the 17-game schedule will feature a fifth interconference game. The schedule will pit an AFC division winner against an NFC division winner, and on down the line within each division, but the extra interconference game will not feature two teams who played the previous year, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. In the event the NFL moves to the 17-game season in 2021, the Chiefs and Buccaneers could not play again next season; the earliest such a regular-season rematch would occur would be 2022.
  • Roger Goodell may well be on board with shortening the preseason slate from four games to two. The commissioner “seemed in favor” of halving the preseason schedule at last week’s owners meetings, according to ESPN.com’s Seth Wickersham, but some high-profile owners are not. Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft, John Mara and Art Rooney II dismissed the idea of going from three preseason games — the new number as of the 2020 CBA — to two, according to ESPN. No vote occurred on the matter, though Goodell discussing the idea publicly points to it remaining an issue going forward.

Latest On NFL’s 17-Game Season Plan

The new CBA gives the NFL leeway to expand to a 17-game season as soon as 2021. Given the COVID-19 pandemic’s affect on revenue this season, it would seem owners would move to institute the expanded schedule as soon as possible. While that is not certain yet, some clarity is emerging on how the new schedule would be structured.

The league approved a new scheduling formula Wednesday, Roger Goodell said. A fifth interconference game will appear on teams’ schedules, whenever the NFL greenlights the 17-game slate.

Wednesday’s agreement will lead to schedules’ extra game being AFC-NFC matchups pitting teams with corresponding divisional finishes from the previous year against one another, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk tweets. A first-place team from the AFC would meet an additional first-place NFC squad and so on. The NFL has confirmed each team’s schedule will include a fifth interconference game, whenever the 17-game season becomes a reality, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The AFC and NFC will alternate hosting these extra games, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets.

This may mean a four-year cycle similar to the league’s current AFC-NFC format. Schedules mandate teams face all four teams from at least one out-of-conference division, with that rotating each year, but the Super Bowl is the only other interconference matchup that occurs annually. This has led to certain marquee showdowns — be it games featuring Aaron Rodgers facing Tom Brady (for most of their careers) or Patrick Mahomes against Russell Wilson — occurring only once every four seasons. Schedules including games against multiple out-of-conference divisions would open the door to more key matchups being on dockets.

This year, the NFL schedule will feature two additional playoff games. While no votes were taken at today’s owners meetings regarding a 2021 move to the 17-game schedule, the decision on the new formula points to it becoming a reality soon. Indeed, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports hears that a vote will happen in the coming weeks and that the measure will easily pass. The NFL must renegotiate its ESPN TV contract before the end of next year, and its deals with the other networks expire in 2022. A plan for the 17th game emerging will provide more clarity in these negotiations.

Not everyone is convinced that the extra game will become a reality next season. The NFL is “far less certain” to implement its 17-game schedule than it was before the pandemic, according to Sports Business Daily’s Ben Fischer (Twitter link), who says that an expansion to 17 games would have been a certainty before the pandemic hit. However, the NFL losing upwards of nine figures due to the pandemic, which is expected to lead to a reduced salary cap in 2021, certainly points to the owners figuring out a way to expand the schedule as soon as possible.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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.