The NFL and NFL Players’ association are closing in on an agreement that would allow training camps to open on time next week, and the 2020 season to take place as scheduled.
The NFLPA put out a statement indicating the entire executive committee was on board with the current proposal, and accompanying changes to the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
While the 32 NFLPA player representatives still need to vote on the deal, it’s doubtful they’d shoot down an agreement the executive committee endorsed with respect to COVID-19 concerns, and fallout from the pandemic.
That being said, let’s take a look at some of the vital areas of the pact, and how it might specifically impact the Patriots.
1. Opt-out arrangement: According to an AP story, players who decide they want to opt out have until Aug. 3 to do so, and they will receive a stipend from the owners for not playing the year. The stipend figure has yet to be made public. And one more item of note, if games are cancelled, the players don’t get paid. According to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, all salaries and incentives will go away if games are stopped.
Impact on the Patriots: Last week, the McCourty brothers indicated they hadn’t heard of any players who would want to opt out, but once there was more information in terms of possible penalty, they wouldn’t be surprised if some players chose that option.
Who might go the opt-out route in New England?
Two names immediately come to mind. The first is center David Andrews. He missed last season with blood clots in his lungs. While he has stated he’s healthy, and is cleared to play, he might have second thoughts given the added risk if he contracted the coronavirus. Ditto for right tackle Marcus Cannon, who is a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma right before being drafted in 2011. Given their medical history, it would be hard to fault either of these players if they chose not to play.
2. Salary cap in 2021: Under the proposal that’s pending final approval, the salary cap for 2021 will be at least $175 million, according to reports, and if future salary caps need to be reduced, that would happen in the 2022, 2023 and 2024 seasons.
Impact on Patriots: With the 2020 salary cap at $198.2 million, the slashing of roughly $23 million will impact a lot of teams, including the Patriots, who were expected to have a boat-load of space next year. Mid-level veterans are expected to be affected most by the move. But in the overall picture for the Patriots, according to Over the Cap, would have them now projected for a 2021 salary cap of $59 million. It doesn’t sound like a huge amount, but it would be fifth-highest amount of cap space in the league. So they still will have a bit of room to maneuver.
3. Training camp roster spots slashed from 90 to 80: Along with cutting rosters, the league also reportedly offered an extended acclimation period of 18 days for players, given that the coronavirus caused the cancellation of all offseason on-field activities at team facilities.
Impact on Patriots: Like with most teams, the unfortunate 10 will likely be heavily drawn from the undrafted rookie free agent pool. The Patriots signed 15 undrafted rookies, so they’ll still have a few left to try to extend the streak to 17. For the past 16 seasons, at least one UDFA has made the final roster.
Which UDFAs are likely to be cut? Follow the money, and the players with the least amount of guaranteed money. The bottom five on that list would include two quarterbacks (J’Mar Smith, Brian Lewerke), two wideouts (Sean Riley, Jeff Thomas) and a defensive tackle (Courtney Wallace).
Bill Belichick might also eliminate some of the bigger long shots, such as wide receiver Devin Ross and cornerback Lenzy Pipkins.
In terms of the acclimation period, which will include testing, physicals, strength and conditioning, it’ll be roughly 16 days before teams actually hit the field. With no preseason games being played, that would leave a month before the first regular season game (Sept. 13). Not the most optimal arrangement for a team breaking in a new quarterback.
Patriot players are expected to start the proceedings by going through COVID-testing on Monday with rookies and quarterbacks, and veterans on Tuesday.