NFL players have narrowly approved a new labor agreement with the league that features an eventual 17-game regular season, higher salaries, increased roster sizes, and larger pensions for current and former players.
The deal, which runs through the 2030 season, was accepted by the 32 team owners last month. The NFL Players Association’s membership spent the last week voting electronically on the 439-page document after its executive board narrowly rejected it by a 6-5 vote, and the player representatives voted 17-14 in favor of it, with one abstention.
Many stars, including Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, J.J. Watt, and Todd Gurley, spoke out against the agreement, and Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles’ player representative, indicated Sunday in a tweet that he had been opposed. Jenkins was named last week to the union’s executive committee.
“The democratic process has played itself out. We must be committed to unifying our current and former members. While I don’t agree with the decision because of its negative impacts on some current and former players, I do respect our process and will push forward accordingly,” Jenkins said.
The total vote, among the nearly 2,500 union members who participated, was 1,019-959. Ratification required a simple majority, and results were announced Sunday. The main beneficiaries probably will be players toward the bottom of the salary scale.
In the wake of the announcement of approval, the NFL officially set the salary cap for 2020 at $198.2 million, a $10 million increase from 2019. The Eagles seem to have about $40 million in cap room.
“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,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We appreciate the tireless efforts of the members of the Management Council Executive Committee and the NFLPA leadership, both of whom devoted nearly a year to detailed, good faith negotiations to reach this comprehensive, transformative agreement.”
The 2020 league year begins Wednesday with free agency and trades — initially, a delay seemed likely, given restrictions on travel as a safeguard against the coronavirus, but the NFL announced late Sunday it would go forward with the new league year as scheduled. The so-called “legal tampering” period for negotiation starts Monday at noon.
A 17-game schedule won’t happen before the 2021 season, and might take longer. The mechanics for an uneven number of games — neutral sites, or which teams get nine home games — will be worked out in the interim.
Extending the season was a nonstarter with the players in 2011, when the current 10-year deal was finalized after a 4 1/2-month lockout. But the gains they make in the new agreement in sharing “a bigger portion of the growing pie,” according to outgoing NFLPA president Eric Winston, swayed the vote this time.
Among those gains:
— An increase from the 47% of league revenues given to the players, with that percentage dependent on the length of the season, and on TV deals.
— A reduction of the preseason, initially from four games to three. More time off during training camps, with fewer padded practices in camp.
— Upgraded pensions, with the addition of groups of previous players not included in past agreements.
— Two more roster spots per team, from 53 to 55; that's 64 more jobs.
— Larger practice squads with fewer limitations on movement of those players (who are paid at a lower rate).
— Narrowing the testing period for players for marijuana use, plus lowered discipline for using it; and a reduction in on-field fines.
Adding two playoff teams was not part of the bargaining process; the owners can do so without union approval. That is expected to occur this season, with only the top team in each conference getting a wild-card bye.
With labor peace for the rest of the decade, the NFL now will turn to negotiating new deals with its broadcast partners. Results of that, including digital media, should, as Winston mentioned, substantially grow the financial pie.
Many players thought the 17th game was an extraordinary concession, and didn’t think the union got enough from the league in this agreement to warrant it.
The deal makes possible the cutting of players with a post-June 1 designation -- something that would not have been possible in the final year of the old CBA. “Post-June 1” is a technicality in which a team can cut a player but carry his salary on the books toward its cap total until June 1, when the team can then spread the dead money from that player’s contract over two seasons, instead of taking the entire hit that year. That could affect the Eagles’ situation with injured wideout Alshon Jeffery, whose dead cap number currently would be $26 million.