NFL Players Association

NFL, NFLPA Discussing 2028 Olympic Flag Football Participation

In October, it was officially announced flag football would be one of the new events introduced at the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Questions have since been raised regarding the participation of NFL players, but talks on that front are already underway.

The NFL played a leading role in the effort to get flag football into the Olympics, so it comes as little surprise the league is interested in having a presence at the event. Numerous active players have publicly stated an intention to participate, but a number of logistical issues need to be worked out. A mutual interest exists between both the NFL and the player’s association with respect to taking part.

NFL EVP Peter O’Reilly confirmed (via Mark Maske of the Washington Post) that “conversations have started” when it comes to working out an agreement with all parties to allow for NFL participation. NFLPA executive director Lloyd Howell cautioned that plenty of detailed discussions will be needed for one to be hammered out when speaking on the subject. He did, however, confirm the appetite on the union’s side for the NFL to have a prominent presence.

“The players want to do it,” Howell said (via Maske). “We’re supportive of the players wanting to do it. The league wants the players to do it. So we’re all for it. No impasse.”

The 2028 Games will take place from July 14-30, a window which falls outside of when NFL training camps usually begin. Matters such as travel costs and insurance in case of injury will need to be sorted out before NFL players are given the go-ahead to compete. As things currently stand, however, signs point to that taking place with plenty of time remaining for negotiations.

NFL, NFLPA Agree To Revised Gambling Policy

In the wake of an offseason filled with gambling-related punishments across the NFL, changes have come about regarding the policy dictating betting on football and other sports. The league and NFLPA agreed to a revised policy, as first reported by CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones.

Under the new rules, players found to have bet on NFL games not involving their own team will be subject to indefinite suspensions of at least one year. That has been the case on a number of previous occasions, including Calvin Ridley last year and a pair of now ex-ColtsIsaiah Rodgers and Rashod Berry – in 2023. Notably, however, players who bet on games involving their club will be subject to a ban of at least two years.

Keeping in line with the stiffer punishments for football-related betting, the new policy also includes lifetime bans for players found culpable of “actual or attempted match fixing.” One-year suspensions are also in place for players who provide “inside information” for NFL-related bets. The threat of such moves being deemed necessary has become increasingly present in recent years given the league’s about-face on betting, having developed a highly lucrative relationship with gambling partners.

On the other hand, the punishments for gambling on non-NFL events has been lessened. Betting on such sports remains permitted outside of NFL facilities, but players who violate that section of the policy will no longer be subject to six-game bans. Instead, first-time offenders will face two-game suspensions, with the penalty rising to six games for second offenses and year-long bans for third violations. Given these changes, a pair of teams will have notable players return earlier than expected.

Lions wideout Jameson Williams and Titans right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere – both handed six-game bans for placing bets at NFL facilities – will be allowed to return to action in Week 5, Jones notes. Given their status as first offenders, the new, lighter penalties for non-NFL betting will see them in place ahead of their scheduled return date under the previous policy. Both players are expected to take on starting roles when they return to action, though a ramp-up period in practice should be expected before that takes place. Free agent receiver Stanley Berryhill will also be reinstated next week.

The league’s gambling policy is not subject to CBA negotiations, but NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero notes new NFLPA executive director Lloyd Howell spoke to commissioner Roger Goodell about “inconsistencies” in the previous policy. That has resulted in Friday’s news of signficant revisions for players, although no changes are believed to have been made for other team personnel. As a result, the indefinite ban issued to Jets WRs coach Miles Austin in December is not in line to be adjusted, nor are the penalties for NFL and non-NFL gambling slated to be softened for similar violations in the future.

“In recent weeks, we have consulted with many of you and with the NFL Players Association to ensure that out policies are clear, properly communicated, and focused on protecting the integrity of the game,” a memo from Goodell reads in part. “We are working with the [NFLPA] to develop a program to educate players regarding the changes to the policy.”

As was previously the case, gambling violations will be subject to review from Goodell on a case-by-case basis. With these revisions in place moving forward, though, further clarity on all sides will presumably be attained as the league aims to a avoid a repeat of the summer’s slew of punishments being learned of. With further incentives to avoid NFL-related gambling in particular, it will be interesting to see how effective the new policy is in the future.

NFL Owners Attempted To Establish Player Salary Ceiling During CBA Talks

The 2023 offseason saw four quarterbacks – Jalen Hurts (Eagles), Lamar Jackson (Ravens), Justin Herbert (Chargers) and, most recently, Joe Burrow (Bengals) earn the title of the league’s highest-paid player. The position has seen a major uptick in value in recent years, something which has obvious roster-building implications.

The QB market’s market has grown at a noticeably higher rate than that of the salary cap, leading to mega-contracts for emerging passers and cost-cutting at other positions. NFL owners responded during the most recent round of CBA negotiations by considering the implementation of a maximum player salary, reports ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. The idea was quickly shut down by the player’s association, though, leaving no upper limit on the annual compensation players can earn.

With Burrow’s $55MM AAV making him one of seven passers to earn at least $45MM per year on average, the appeal of a player cap is easy to see. The proposed idea would have instituted a system similar to that of supermax deals in the NBA, which dictate the earnings of star players (instead of teams and players individually negotiating monster contracts on a case-by-case basis). With the salary cap set to continue growing at a major rate with the arrival of new media rights deals and gambling revenue, QBs in particular are likely to see their market surge for years to come.

Given the upward trajectory of the cap, it is certainly interesting to wonder how owners wished to structure a leaguewide player ceiling and what figure they were prepared to arrive at as a maximum salary. Quarterbacks would no doubt be the players most affected by the proposal, but other positions – including receiver, edge rusher, cornerback and, as illustrated in recent months, defensive tackle – have seen healthy growth as well. An upper limit on quarterback earnings would likely have a trickle-down effect on the top earners at other positions.

That point would be especially true since the NFL, unlike the NBA, does not have a luxury tax to allow teams to significantly exceed the cap limit when making high-profile additions. In any event, the current CBA runs through the 2030 campaign, so plenty of time remains before the next round of talks between owners and the NFLPA. Where the league and its highest-paid players sit financially speaking at that time will influence how willing the owners are to make a second attempt at instituting a similar proposal to the one already floated.

Latest On Lloyd Howell, NFLPA’s Executive Director Search

The NFLPA unveiled their new executive director on Wednesday, introducing Lloyd Howell as the leader tasked with overseeing the union moving forward. Details regarding his selection and expected start date have emerged.

Howell, 57, was not mentioned as one of the known candidates in the union’s search process for its DeMaurice Smith successor. Secrecy surrounded the build-up to Howell’s selection, and the identities of the other finalists voted on remains unknown. Of note, though, is the fact that ex-players Matt Schaub, Domonique Foxworth and Kellen Winslow Sr. were mentioned as names to watch, but the top position was once again given to someone with no playing experience.  

“You don’t need to be a former player to be able to motivate and galvanize a group of people,” president J.C. Tretter said, via The Athletic’s Zak Keefer (subscription required). “We were really looking for anybody that was capable of doing that, and we found a great one.”

Tretter added that the search process – which began in October – involved casting a “wide net,” and ultimately landed on Howell. The latter has no background in pro sports, and he has yet to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, though that is expected to soon change. Howell declined to go in to specifics on his opinion regarding the current CBA, but he indicated his views with respect to the 2020 negotiations and the ones which will take place after the 2030 campaign helped earn him the position.

Veteran reporter Daniel Kaplan tweets that Howell’s start date is expected to be July 10, which will mark a quick transition from Smith to the new director. After the former won his most recent re-election with the minimum votes, it was expected his final term would be much shorter than his previous ones, which will be the case if Howell is in place by next month. The success he makes in integrating into the union and establishing new relations with the NFL will be a key factor when CBA talks take place and in the time leading up to that point.

NFLPA Executive Director Vote Imminent

Not much is known with respect to the details of the NFLPA’s search for a new executive director, but it will soon come to a conclusion. CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones reports (via Twitter) that a vote on the matter will take place this week and that the position could be filled as early as today.

DeMaurice Smith is in his final term at the helm of the union, following a narrow re-election in 2021. The 59-year-old was widely thought to be on his way out shortly thereafter, however, leading to the belief that a new leader would be elected in short order.

The NFLPA opened its search process for Smith’s successor in October, with the expectation that one would be voted on sometime in 2023 (despite Smith’s term running through 2025, if he had preferred to remain in place that long). As a result, the union will soon have a new leader for the first time since 2009, when Smith took over from Gene Upshaw.

The search process has been shrouded in secrecy, however, and Jones notes that the identity of the three finalists being voted on remains unknown. Few updates have emerged in recent months with respect to candidates vying for the top position, though the most public in that regard has been Matt Schaub. The former Texans and Falcons quarterback has detailed his aspirations to lead the union and the issues he would prioritize if elected, including long-term player healthcare and revenue sharing between owners and players.

The list of finalists was put together by the union’s executive committee (led by president J.C. Tretter, who has been named as a potential candidate to succeed Smith) and a select few player representatives. A general vote of all reps will determine the executive director. The current CBA is in place through 2031, so plenty of time remains between the upcoming election and the point at which negotiations on a new labor agreement will take place.

Latest On AFC Playoff Picture; Owners To Meet On Friday

Earlier this evening, Mike Florio of reported that the NFL’s Competition Committee was set to vote on the league’s approach to the AFC playoffs. It sounds like the decision will now come down to the owners. Florio reports (on Twitter) that the league’s owners will meet on Friday regarding seeding in the AFC. ESPN’s Dianna Russini echoes that latest development (on Twitter), adding that there will likely be a resolution before the weekend.

[RELATED: NFL Considering Adding Eighth Playoff Team Amid Bills-Bengals Fallout?]

With the NFL likely eyeing a scenario where the Bills and Bengals complete the regular season having only played 16 games (vs. the 17 played by the rest of the league), the Competition Committee was expected to come up with a solution. Considering the unprecedented event, it was uncertain if the Competition Committee’s decision would be binding, and Florio expected the final decision would ultimately lie with commissioner Roger Goodell, who would have the ability to veto any scenario.

Instead, it’s sounding like the final decision will likely come down to the league’s owners. A source told Florio that the owners will have to “resolve some “controversial” aspects of finalizing the plan.” It’s uncertain if the vote will require majority or supermajority.

Among the possibilities that have been floated around are a neutral-site AFC Championship game or the No. 1 seed’s ability to choose either a first-round bye or home-field advantage over the No. 2 seed. One scenario that probably won’t happen is the addition of an eighth seed. Florio notes that revamping the postseason “would require collective bargaining with the NFL Players Association.” Indeed, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith told Ari Meirov that the NFL hasn’t approached the Players Association about this scenario (Twitter link).

In his initial report, Florio mentioned that the Bills/Bengals game has a “small theoretical chance” of still being played, especially following the good news with Bills safety Damar Hamlin. This scenario would require the NFL to reconfigure the postseason schedule.

Dolphins Cleared In Concussion Protocol Review

For the second time this season, the Dolphins were the subject of a joint NFL-NFLPA investigation into their handling of the league’s updated concussion protocols. As was the case the first time, the team has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

The review came in the wake of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa reporting concussion symptoms one day after the Dolphins’ loss to the Packers in Week 16. The third-year passer was never evaluated for a head injury during the course of the game, one in which he threw three late interceptions en route to a loss which hurt Miami’s playoff chances.

Tagovailoa’s concussion history dating back to earlier in the campaign – which prompted the league’s new protocols being enacted and resulted in the first investigation into the Dolphins – has forced Miami to turn to veteran Teddy Bridgewater as its starter for tomorrow’s contest against the Patriots. This latest issue has also invited increased speculation regarding Tagovailoa’s short- and long-term future in the NFL, as the former top-five pick has suffered two (or, potentially, three) concussions in a matter of months in addition to his availability concerns entering the league.

“The NFL and NFLPA concluded their joint review of the application of concussion protocol involving [Tagovailoa] in Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers,” a statement from the league and union reads. “The joint review determined the protocol was not triggered… The review established that symptoms of a concussion were neither exhibited nor reported until the following day at which time the team medical personnel appropriately evaluated and placed Mr. Tagovailoa in the concussion protocol.”

The Dolphins enter Week 17 with an 8-7 record, due in no small part to the significant improvement the Alabama product has shown this season alongside new head coach Mike McDaniel and an offense which added wideout Tyreek Hill, among others, in the offseason. They will now look to snap their four-game losing streak with Bridgewater under center as he makes his first start since Week 5, where he suffered a concussion of his own on Miami’s opening offensive snap.

NFLPA Alleging Collusion Over Fully Guaranteed QB Contracts

The Browns’ acquisition of Deshaun Watson was the most controversial storyline of the 2022 offseason, in no small part due to the nature of the contract he signed upon being traded to Cleveland. That five-year, $230MM deal was fully guaranteed, leading many to wonder if a new precedent had been set for high-end quarterbacks in future deals.

League owners were reportedly upset over the fact that Watson – given the legal battle he was facing at the time over allegations of sexual misconduct which ultimately led to an 11-game suspension to begin his Browns tenure – received such as deal far eclipsing even the one Kirk Cousins signed in Minnesota in 2018 (three years, $84MM) which was also fully guaranteed.

It’s like, ‘Damn, I wish they hadn’t guaranteed the whole contract.’ I don’t know that he should’ve been the first guy to get a fully guaranteed contract,” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said in March“To me, that’s something that is groundbreaking, and it’ll make negotiations harder with others.”

Remarks such as those have led the NFLPA to accuse the league of collusion on the matter of full guarantees, as detailed by The Athletic’s Kayln Kahler (subscription required). The union has filed a system arbitration proceeding which will be overseen by Christopher Droney (Twitter links via Mark Maske of the Washington Post). Such action will take place confidentially, which at this point obscures what direct evidence (if any) the NFLPA has to make its case.

In the months following the Watson deal, two mega-contracts were handed out: Kyler Murray‘s extension in Arizona (five years, $230.5MM), and Denver’s long-term investment in Russell Wilson (five years, $245MM). While each pact contains sizeable guarantees, neither come near the figure the Browns handed Watson. As a result, it appeared that the league was making a concerted effort to distance themselves from Cleveland and make the Watson deal an outlier.

Per a league memo distributed to team owners and executives in the wake of the allegations, the NFLPA is arguing that “[t]he expectation was that fully guaranteed contracts would now become the competition driven norm for the top players in the League, including quarterbacks, negotiating new contracts,” and that “NFL owners and/or League executives discussed not agreeing to any additional player contracts with fully guaranteed salaries” at the August owners meeting.

Most notably, the union is requesting that the arbitrator allow “certain quarterbacks who have been adversely affected by the collusive agreement” to exit their existing contracts. That could include passers like Murray and Wilson, but also Ravens QB Lamar Jackson. The latter is technically scheduled for free agency this coming offseason, but is universally expected to receive the franchise tag in the absence of a long-term deal. The sticking point in negotiations from the summer was the degree to which the Ravens would guarantee Jackson’s second contract.

If successful, the union would achieve an entirely unprecedented feat in having existing contracts voided and/or damages awarded. For that reason (in addition to the lack of known concrete evidence in their case), Kahler’s sources are highly skeptical that such action will take place. As one executive stressed, league owners remain adamant that the NFL does not follow other major North American sports leagues in guaranteeing player contracts in full across the board.

While this news is certainly noteworthy, it is not entirely surprising. While speaking to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk last month, outgoing NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith spoke about the potential for legal action on the point of collusion.

“Sometimes your best evidence comes from people who make comments that look like they are careless but are actually rooted in something factual,” he said against the backdrop of the league’s fall meetings taking place. “I am being a little bit cagey, but anytime we see what has been occurring in the markets and we hear comments that validate those concerns, we have never shied away from exercising both our legal rights and our collective bargaining rights to protect our players and people shouldn’t be surprised if something happens in the near future.”

This represents the first formal collusion allegations since those made by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid in 2017 and 2018, respectively. They ultimately resulted in a 2019 settlement. The outcome of this process – which neither the league nor the union has commented on – will be worth monitoring as another offseason (and, therefore, a new crop of QBs eligible for monster extensions) draws near.

Matt Schaub On NFLPA Executive Director Aspirations

With NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith set to transition away from his position as early as March 2023, the union’s search for his replacement is underway. The most prominent name to emerge as his potential successor is Matt Schaub

The longtime Falcons and Texans quarterback is in his second year of retirement, and has been public about his intention of leading the player’s union. He expounded on his candidacy and top priorities in the event he lands the job in an interview with Pro Football Network.

“After playing for 17 years and being a part of the union for 19 years and seeing the impact the union has on players’ lives, both while in the game and once they retire, the physical toll, the mental toll, the emotional toll and how the financial side of the game impacts everyone from the top of the rosters to the bottom,” he said, “it has opened my eyes to want to advocate and help and lead the union to a place that all players need to be in, especially physically as they move beyond the game.”

To no surprise given those remarks, the 41-year-old doubled down on long-term health care as his chief concern, naming lifelong coverage as a target. He also referenced the compensation levels for end-of-the-roster players, along with the split of league revenues between the league and players (central issues in the last round of CBA negotiations) as focal points in upcoming agreements.

In addition to Schaub, other contenders for the position could include NFLPA president J.C. Tretter and senior director of player affairs Don Davis. They, too, have a background as NFL players, something which Smith does not. In Tretter’s case, his status in the union was widely seen as a key factor in his release from the Browns this offseason, and the lack of free agent interest which led to his retirement. Davis, meanwhile, spent more than a decade in the league and has played a leading role in a number of union events under his current title.

Reflections In The Wake Of New Concussion Protocol

The NFL and NFLPA released a joint statement yesterday, the day after the Players Association urged the league to accept the new language for the NFL-NFLPA Concussion Evaluation and Management Protocol that they wanted in place for this weekend’s slate of games. The statement showed the two parties reaching a mutual conclusion concerning both the nature of the changes to the protocol and the findings of the investigation into the injuries of Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Just because the two parties came to an agreement doesn’t necessarily mean everyone involved is now on the same page. The NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, was quoted as he spoke passionately on a Zoom call, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. Sills flew to the defense of the medical professionals involved in clearing Tagovailoa, saying that they operated with “absolute integrity.” He claimed that they all see “a patient and not a player” in that kind of situation and that “no one involved cares about the position of the player or the score of a game.” He then moved to defend the protocol, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, saying that it “is not broken” but “can always improve.”

In response to the firing of the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant in Tagovailoa’s case, Sills claimed that “it was extremely unfortunate to make an action prior to review being completed.” According to Rapoport, Sills’ sentiments were echoed by the NFL executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy, Jeff Miller, who was quoted saying, “It’s not something we would have done and didn’t. We never supported terminating him.” Miller deferred an explanation to the union, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, claiming it was the NFLPA’s decision to terminate the UNC despite protocols being followed.

Retired NFL center and president of the Players Association JC Tretter defended the union’s decision to terminate the UNC saying that, while the UNC technically followed the protocols, the NFLPA does “not believe this was a meaningful application of the protocols.” Tretter pointed out that “nobody, including the NFL, believes (Tagovailoa) should have been put back in the game,” seemingly insinuating that utilizing the loophole of Tagovailoa’s back injury as an alternative cause of gross motor instability, despite not taking time to examine him for a back injury, was a fireable offense.

Sills also spoke to the effects of the new protocol. He confirmed that, with the wording of the new protocol disqualifying any players showing symptoms of ataxia, Tagovailoa would’ve been effectively ruled out, according to Rapoport. He also warned of some potential negative consequences to the new wording, according to Pelissero, pointing out that “players diagnosed with ataxia will be treated the same as others with concussions, including needing independent neurologist clearance to play again.” He also pointed out that it would be “extremely unlikely” that a diagnosed player could clear all the steps required in order to return in just four days, hinting that the new protocol would also have held Tagovailoa out of the Thursday night game that saw him succumb to further head trauma.

Sills also acknowledged that, with the new wording, there will likely be some players who end up getting pulled even if they don’t have a concussion, according to Pelissero. This is one of the first major steps we’ve seen towards an actually conservative handling of head injuries, and it’s a tradeoff that the NFL and NFLPA will readily accept. Sills told the media, “We’d rather hold someone out that doesn’t have a brain injury than put someone out there that does have a concussion and we weren’t able to diagnose it,” a sentiment many who preach “player safety” have been pounding the table with for years.

The new protocol is now in place and will hopefully lead to more examples of protecting the league’s players. The protocol is only the first step, though, as now the league has to ensure that everybody involved in the process is retrained to follow the new checklist, released first yesterday by Pelissero. Even the two steps together will not guarantee that the protocol will be followed entirely to a T without fail. Just last week, Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate returned to a game after suffering a blow to the head and exhibiting “injury behavior” without so much as an examination, according to Mike Florio of NBC Sports. Florio wrote that Sills disagreed with the spotters’ conclusion that Brate was struck in the shoulder and not the head, and that Brate should have been examined for a concussion before re-entering the game. So even with the perfect protocols in place, human-error still persists, and the league will need to take steps in monitoring cases like this and taking action, when necessary.

Finally, we can turn our attention to the larger picture, in terms of an entity to which even the NFL must answer. The recent controversy reportedly drew the attention of the US Congress as Bill Pascrell, Jr., a member of the House of Representatives and head of the Brain Injury Task Force sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross inquiring about what was to be done to address player safety. The letter showed fundamental misunderstandings of the league’s policy and procedures, according to Florio, but still rightly demanded that action be taken. Pascrell’s response to the action taken last night has yet to be seen, but the entire situation may not be fully put to bed until the fat lady (Congress) sings.

For now, though, the NFL is in action-mode, putting into effect their new protocol. The rest of us will have to wait and see; see if the league acts more conservatively, if the danger of brain reinjury wanes, if player safety will take precedence over profit and product. The league is under the microscope and will hopefully become more proactive than reactive as a result.