NFL Players Association

NFL Combine Changes Bubble Rules, Boycott Avoided

Crisis averted. The NFL Combine announced that they have changed their bubble policies and will allow prospects outside of restricted areas, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (via Twitter). Per Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com (on Twitter), the boycott has been avoided.

[RELATED: Latest On The NFL Combine]

“As has been the case throughout the pandemic, we continue to evolve our Combine policies and procedures in consultation with medical experts,” the National Invitational Combine said in a statement (via ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Twitter). “While masks continue to be required for air travel and during medical exams at the Combine (players and medical personnel), wearing a mask at other times while on site is recommended, but not required. We encourage all players to remain within the secure Combine areas at all times for your safety. However, if you would like to leave the secure areas during free time in your schedule, you are now permitted to do so at your own risk.”

This is a sudden change in philosophy, but it’s not particularly surprising following the news from earlier today. Due to the former restrictions, agents who represent more than 150 draft prospects were organizing a boycott of all testing, on-field workouts, and interviews at the Combine. Tony Pauline of ProFootballNetwork.com tweets that some compromise was likely reached, allowing the event to proceed.

Schefter tweeted a remark from a source earlier today who indicated that agents were not planning a boycott but were simply “advising the players en masse to hold off on workouts until Pro Day.” Either way, it sounds like the threat worked.

Update: Latest On The NFL Combine

7:15pm: True to our suspicions, it turns out a mass boycott of the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine is just what the prospects’ agents had in mind. According to Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, agents who represent more than 150 draft prospects will organize a boycott of all testing, on-field workouts, and interviews at the Combine. If that number is accurate, it represents nearly half of the Combine’s invited athletes.

Further tweets from Pelissero and Rapoport explain that agents are pushing for players to be allowed access to their full team of coaches, trainers, ATCs, etc. If these demands aren’t met, most top prospects are expected to only perform medical evaluations in Indianapolis.

The ball is now back in the NFL’s court as lines have been drawn in the sand.

6:15pm: Yesterday, the NFL informed college athletes invited to the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine of increased restrictions surrounding the event in the effort to create a “bubble” environment for protection against the spread of COVID-19. We noted yesterday that the extreme measures were not sitting well with prospective employees and that displeasure from the athletes involved could soon be voiced.

Well, less than 24 hours later, the NFL Players Association has stepped into the conversation. In a letter sent out to potential Combine participants’ agents, the NFLPA voiced their “long standing opposition to the NFL Scouting Combine.” A copy of the letter was first tweeted out by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

In the letter, the players’ union called out the “NFL’s proposed ‘bubble'” along with the league’s “antiquated system of every team doctor examining players and having them perform yet again.” The Association calls for “serious modification or elimination” of the current system.

Now, the NFLPA has no involvement in the Combine. Players are not usually introduced to the union until their rookie orientations, with the exception being players who participate in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl all-star game. The letter acknowledges this fact claiming that “while (they) do not represent these players (they) have advocated for their rights to fair treatment.” NFLPA president and current Browns’ starting center J.C. Tretter tweeted out his thoughts saying, “This year’s NFL Combine is an example of what happens when players are not yet represented by a union.”

Players declaring for the NFL Draft are solely represented by their respective agents. Word has it that many agents have been advising their clients not to participate in this year’s combine, opting to display their abilities at their schools’ Pro Days. We noted yesterday that this is a luxury afforded to players who will certainly have many scouts attend their school’s Pro Day. Players at smaller Group of 5 schools and FCS schools may be relying on the Combine to display their talents and, as a result, will have to subject themselves to the overwhelming restrictions enforced by the NFL.

We are nine days away from the scheduled start of the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, and more updates on the situation are certainly expected. With the support of the NFLPA’s “long standing opposition,” if a significant number of prospects protest this year’s testing, we may see the end of the NFL Scouting Combine as we know it.

NFL Updates COVID-19 Protocols

Another change has been made to the league’s COVID-19 protocols, which will take place immediately and remain in place for the remainder of the postseason. The NFL has sent a memo detailing the update, which includes removing the distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated players, and an end to the requirement for the latter group to be tested daily (Twitter link via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero).

[Related: NFL, NFLPA Modify COVID Protocols]

As the insider further explains, the changes have been made in conjunction with the NFLPA as more data on the Omicron variant emerges. The most recent changes, implemented in December, have involved targeted testing of symptomatic players and staff members, along with a five-day return rule. Now, tests will only be conducted for players and personnel who have symptoms, or those who are included in random testing.

The memo reads, in part, “This comprehensive, symptom-based approach to testing reflects our recent experience with the Omicron variant and conforms to current public health recommendations and best practices employed in healthcare, and offers the best opportunity for identifying and treating cases promptly and avoiding spread within the facility“.

As Pelissero and others have noted, there are roughly a dozen players on the remaining eight playoff teams, so these changes will directly affect only a small group. Still, even players who have tested positive within the 90 day ‘holiday’ period remain under the same symptom-based testing rules, so the possibility remains for anyone who reports symptoms to miss a playoff game.

NFL, NFLPA Modify COVID Protocols

The NFL and the NFL Players Association have adopted the CDC’s new guidelines and reduced quarantine time from 10 days to five days for players who test positive for COVID-19, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter). This is relevant for all asymptomatic players, regardless of vaccination status.

As NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero notes on Twitter, a player’s ability to return to the field isn’t necessarily contingent on being asymptomatic. Rather, their return will need to be at least five days after their initial swap, the player will need to have no fevers for 24 hours, they’ll need to see “resolved or improved” symptoms (like coughing), and they’ll need to be cleared by team doctors (“in consultation with ICS and NFL“).

This will naturally lead to a quicker return-to-play path. Per Lindsay Jones of The Athletic (on Twitter), the NFL is the first professional sports league to change protocols to “align” with the CDC’s guidelines. Following the NFL’s decision to postpone several games earlier this month, the league is now clearly focused on finishing the regular season without any more postponements or cancellations.

The new protocols are retroactive, meaning players who are currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list are eligible to return after five days (per ESPN’s Dianna Russini on Twitter). As Pelissero tweets, this provides some clarity on a handful of unvaccinated players who were recently placed on the list, a group that includes Colts quarterback Carson Wentz and Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams.

NFL Considering Changes To COVID-19 Protocols

With COVID-19 cases surging across the NFL, commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed that the league and the union are considering revisions to the league’s protocols.

“The thing that made us successful is keeping safety first,” Goodell said (via Alber Breer of TheMMQB on Twitter). “And second, being willing to adapt at all times.”

Earlier today, we learned that the NFL was considering tweaking a rule that would allow vaccinated, asymptomatic players who have tested positive to return to the field sooner (via Mark Maske of The Washington Post on Twitter). This followed a tweet from the NFL Players Associations earlier today that pushed for changes to protocol, including a request for daily testing.

“The NFL decided to take away a critical weapon in our fight against the transmission of COVID-19 despite our union’s call for daily testing months ago,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “We’re talking to our player leadership & to the NFL about potential changes to the protocols so that we can complete the season.”

Meanwhile, Goodell also said the spike in COVID cases won’t lead to any postponements or cancellations.

“There has not been any discussion about [postponements] and we will confident in our protocols,” the commissioner said (via CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones on Twitter).

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.

No Vote On CBA Would Stifle 2020 Spending

While there are legitimate reasons for the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) to reject the NFL’s proposed collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in pursuit of a better deal, a no vote would severely dampen this offseason’s free agency spending, according to a report by Mike Florio of ProFootball Talk.

Sources tell Florio that the NFLPA estimates rejecting the deal would stunt offseason spending roughly $600MM-$700MM. Since an affirmative vote on the CBA would result in an increase in the player’s portion of revenues, thus causing a relatively large spike in the salary cap over the coming years. While it would not have any immediate effects, teams would be more willing to spend now with the knowledge they would get cap relief soon.

It is worth noting, however, that the union itself seems invested in the deal’s approval since NFLPA president DeMaurice Smith has come out in favor of the deal. Thus, the NFLPA may be releasing news and notes in an attempt to sway undecided players before they vote on March 12th.

 

Meeting Between NFLPA & League Underway

A meeting between the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) representatives and owners has begun in Indianapolis, according to Mark Maske of The Washington Post. The owners recently approved a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which would add a seventh team to the playoffs in each conference and a seventeenth game to the regular season in exchange for a 1.5 percent increase in the player’s share of revenues. It remains uncertain whether the team reps will hold a vote on the proposal tonight, per Mike Jones of USA Today.

Normally negotiations only take place between ownership and the NFLPA’s executive committee. However, the executive committee was unable to come to a consensus on the owner’s proposal, reportedly voting 6-5 against recommending the proposal to team reps. Since the executive committee was so split on the owner’s proposal, team reps decided to hold a meeting of their own with ownership before making any voting decisions.

While public perception seemed to view the ownership proposal as an unfair deal for players, it appears owners made many strategic concessions directly aimed to appeal to the “middle-class” of players who are unlikely to receive a large free-agent contract and instead will make most of their earnings through rookie deals and minimum contracts. The proposal includes expanding rosters from 53 to 55 players, raising minimum salaries, and increasing the performance bonus pool, all of which would help players on the lower end of the pay scale.

With that said, expanding the regular season to seventeen games comes with obvious risks for players (and would severely limit their leverage in future negotiations). Furthermore, the proposed CBA limits game checks in the new game to $250,000, which would mean players with annual salaries greater than $4MM would not receive their normal pay.

49ers team representative (and cornerback) Richard Sherman has been very outspoken in opposition to an expanded schedule and is expected to be one of many team representatives to pushback against any schedule expansion.

NFLPA and MLBPA Form Partnership

The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) and Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) have come to an agreement with RedBird Capital Partners to form a company called OneTeam Partners LLC to manage the portrayals of players, according to Miriam Gottfried, Andrew Beaton, and Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

Both unions have long negotiated the sales of players’ likeness and image to gaming, trading card, poster, and other companies independently. It appears both believe they could benefit from teaming up and investing in other opportunities with the proceeds. RedBird Capital paid $125 MM for roughly a 40% share in the company, per the report, the unions annually make roughly $120 MM from standard licensing agreements.

Players will still receive their standard annual payouts from the deals, but RedBird will use the funds to invest in other opportunities. The NFL and MLB unions are not the only ones looking at turning licensing revenue into grander investments. The WNBA, MLS, and U.S. Women’s Soccer team will all be investing in the fund and are in talks to potentially join OneTeam as well, per the report.

As revenues have exploded, especially in the three major sports leagues, teams and leagues have begun to use their revenues to diversify their investments beyond the field. It now seems players are interested in trying to do the same.

NFLPA Supports Kelechi Osemele

The Jets and Kelechi Osemele disagree on the best treatment for his injured shoulder. Osemele plans to have surgery to repair it while Jets team doctors feel that it’s an unnecessary procedure and the franchise has fined the offensive lineman for conduct detrimental to the team as a result of the disagreement. Now, the NFL Players Association has weighed in (via Twitter).

“Our union supports every player’s right to a second medical opinion, workers’ compensation and the best medical care,” the statement reads. “It is not appropriate or ethical for employers in any line of work to dictate the medical care and treatment of any employee. We are considering all options to protect Kelechi Osemele, as we would for any of our members.”

Jets coach Adam Gates has refused to comment on the situation. “I haven’t been involved in this. My job is coaching the team,” Gase said (via Rich Cimini of ESPN.com). Per Cimini, Osemele hasn’t spoken to Gase in “weeks” but the guard has no beef with the coach.