The agreement reached Friday between the NFL and its players’ union ensured that most NFL teams, including the Eagles, will welcome veterans to training camps starting Tuesday. Rookies have already reported for coronavirus testing and quarantining before they begin conditioning work.
The league and the union agreed earlier in the week on coronavirus testing protocols, but needed more time to hammer out money issues, especially what will happen if the salary cap goes down as expected next year because of decreased revenues. The compromise agreed upon Friday keeps the 2020 cap at $198.2 million and establishes a cap floor of $175 million for 2021, a figure that could be higher if revenues turn out not to be dramatically lower -- if, say, new TV agreements are reached, or if money from online gambling partnerships flows in. There also is a projected 17th regular-season game in 2021 that might be factored into the cap.
The compromise amortizes this year’s projected salary cap losses through 2023. Otherwise, the salary cap could have gone down by nearly a third next year. That would have been a significant problem for the Eagles, who right now figure to be about $50 million over the 2020 cap in 2021. The Eagles expect to carry over a good bit of leftover cap room from this season, so a $175 million cap next year, while uncomfortable, would not be a disaster.
The agreement also makes official that 2020 preseason games are canceled. Rookies, such as Eagles first-round wide receiver Jalen Reagor, will go right from practice to the start of the season, which is scheduled for Sept. 13 at Washington, in the Eagles’ case. Teams can begin training camp with the full complement of 90 players, but they must cut to 80 by Aug. 16. The Eagles’ roster count is at 87, not including exempted Australian defensive end Matt Leo. If you have more than 80 players to start camp, then you have to practice with a split squad -- the Eagles would have to use NovaCare for one group and the Linc for the other. Of course, they also could cut to 80 by Tuesday.
Another economic issue was what happens if the full season can’t be played, and along those lines, what to do with players who opt out over health concerns. The collective bargaining agreement ratified in March didn’t foresee a pandemic. Like its predecessor, it called for a full season’s pay for any vested veteran who is on a roster Week 1. The NFLPA agreed Friday to a “pay-as-you-go” setup for this season, with the provision that money a player was owed for canceled games in 2020 will be part of next year’s compensation. There will be a stipend for players who opt out, but those players must decide they aren’t playing within the next 10 days.
Given the likelihood of positive coronavirus tests -- players will be tested every day for the first two weeks of camp, at least, and every other day thereafter -- practice squads will be expanded to 16 players this season, and six of those can be veterans of any sort. Theoretically, the Eagles could place 38-year-old Jason Peters on their practice squad. (They won’t do that.)
Though we know now that camp will start on time, fans won’t be allowed, and players won’t don pads until Aug. 17, reports of the agreement indicate. There will be a maximum of 14 padded practices, the NFL Network said.
Undrafted free agent rookies and fringe veterans face a peculiar situation. They won’t get preseason game reps to show what they can do, and they’ll likely get fewer practice reps in camp than usual, given the lack of spring work for the core players. But the coronavirus could still give them opportunities to play, at some point. Whether they will have the base of work in the team’s system to take advantage of such an opportunity is hard to say.