Amid a national emergency, the NFL and its players have found peace.
The NFL Players Association announced Sunday morning it has approved ratification of the proposed collective bargaining agreement sent to the union by league owners last month and approved by the NFLPA board of player representatives almost three weeks ago. The final vote among players was 1,019-959, a turnout of almost 80%. The new CBA will run through March 2031 and does not provide an opt-out for either side.
In its announcement, the NFLPA tweeted: “This result comes after a long and democratic process in accordance with our constitution.”
Beginning in 2021, the new CBA will allow the league to expand the regular season to 17 games and reduce the preseason to three games. The window for initiating regular-season expansion will close in 2023. The upcoming 2020 regular season will remain a 16-game slate preceded by four preseason games.
It is unclear how the league will divide home and road games if/when the season does expand to 17.
More imminently, the NFL is expected to add an additional playoff team to each conference this year, which will add two games to Wild Card weekend. The additional Wild Card teams will play the No. 2 seeds, meaning only the top seeds in the AFC and NFC will receive a first-round bye.
Amendments will also be made to roster sizes, bumping game-day rosters from 46 players to 48. One of the two additional players must be an offensive lineman. Practice squads will grow to 12 players this season, then 14 beginning in 2022. Two practice-squad players can be promoted to a team’s active roster each week during the regular season.
The CBA was born from months of negotiations between representatives of the NFL and NFLPA. It will have an instant impact on roughly 60% of players, who are presently on minimum salaries and will now receive a $100,000 raise. Starting in 2021, the deal will also increase the players’ share of league revenue from 47% to 48% and to at least 48.5% in any 17-game season that follows.
Soon after the players’ vote was announced, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement: “We are pleased that the players have voted to ratify the proposed new CBA, which will provide substantial benefits to all current and retired players, increase jobs, ensure continued progress on player safety, and give our fans more and better football.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady expressed his approval of the CBA’s ratification Sunday via Twitter. Brady tweeted at NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, who posted a lengthy letter about the vote shortly after it concluded Saturday at 11:59 p.m. Brady’s tweet read: “Well done De.”
Once league owners approved the proposed CBA on Feb. 20, the players’ vote was the final step toward ratification. Since then, cracks in the NFLPA ranks have surfaced publicly, with members coming out against the addition of a 17th game and arguing that negotiations did not yield enough for its inclusion in a new CBA. Several high-profile players, including Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and J.J. Watt, expressed their displeasure with the deal.
Veteran offensive tackle Russell Okung even filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing NFLPA leadership of negotiating in bad faith. Okung alleged that Smith, among others, forced a vote against the will of the executive committee and prevented him from speaking about a “lack of transparency.” His complaint remains with the NLRB.
Other notable CBA changes include greater restrictions on teams’ practice time. No practice may last longer than 2.5 hours, and players are not permitted to be in a team’s facility for more than 12 hours per day. Teams are allowed 14 padded practices during the regular season, 11 of which must occur over the first 11 weeks.
Owners also strengthened their power over player holdouts. Essentially, only players still on their rookie contracts will be able to tolerate the penalties incurred by a lengthy holdout.
Off the field, the league’s drug policy has been loosened. Players will no longer be suspended for positive marijuana tests and only tested during the first two weeks of training camp. Any positive test will be reviewed by a board of medical professionals who must determine whether the player requires treatment.
Goodell still has final say on player discipline that violates the league’s personal conduct policy or constitutes conduct detrimental to the team or league. A neutral arbitrator will render an initial decision on discipline cases.
The 2020 NFL league year will open as scheduled on Wednesday at 4 p.m. EST. The “legal tampering” period of free agency is set to kick off Monday at noon.
With a newly ratified CBA, teams will have greater flexibility in their pursuit of available players. Had the NFL entered the final year of its previous CBA, new rules would have been implemented to restrict spending, which would have significantly impacted teams up against the salary cap. While the Patriots do have money to spend, they rank in the bottom half of the league in available space.
The salary cap for the 2020 season has been set at $198.2 million, an increase of 5.3% over last year.