The NFL owners and NFL Players Association continue to chip away at their complex negotiation over the health and safety measures and financial considerations of playing the 2020 season amid the pandemic. The owners and union traded proposals this past week and all NFL teams received an email from the league on Saturday saying rookies would report to camp on July 21, quarterbacks and injured players report on July 23, and all other players report July 28.
Last Wednesday’s column provided insight into the negotiations over the salary cap, whether COVID-19 will be considered a football or non-football injury, how the NFLPA wants daily testing, and more.
Here are some more insights into the negotiations, based on NFLPA updates with the players and a Friday media conference with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and president JC Tretter:
▪ The NFLPA was projecting the league to have approximately $16.5 billion in revenue in 2020. With few or no fans expected to be in attendance, the league is expected to lose about $4-plus billion in revenue.
It is fascinating to see that game-day revenue, while nothing to sneeze at, only account for about 25 percent of total revenue. The NFL and players still have $12 billion reasons to want to play a season thanks to TV and other revenue streams.
Smith also noted that the NFL has an obligation to seek other ways to create revenue this fall, so no fans in the stands should lead to more advertisements in their place.
▪ The NFL’s latest proposal to the union on Friday included several interesting items. NFL teams, currently restricted to bringing back three players from injured reserve after missing eight games, would have the ability to take an unlimited number of players off IR or the non-football injury list after the player misses just three games.
Players who test positive for COVID-19 would also be placed on a special commissioner’s exempt list, which would ensure that the player would continue to receive full pay and wouldn’t have to sit out a set number of games. Practice squads would be expanded from 12 to 16 players.
And players would receive a $250,000 stipend if the season is canceled prematurely, offset by any salary and bonus money the player already earned.
▪ There has been massive confusion among the players about the July 28 start date. The collective bargaining agreement states that training camps must open 47 days before the start of the first game, which this year is July 28. And coaches have been harping on players to be ready to go on the 28th. On Saturday, the NFL released a memo stating again that rookies can report on July 21, quarterbacks and injured players on July 23, and the rest of the team on July 28.
However, the NFL and NFLPA agreed that no team can hold workouts with more than 20 people (i.e. training camp can’t start) until a team submits its Infectious Disease Emergency Response (IDER) plan, which must be approved by the NFL and NFLPA.
As of Saturday, only two teams had submitted their plans — the Chiefs and Texans, who are starting training camp two days ahead of everyone else and have their rookies reporting on Monday.
If any of the other 30 teams don’t file their IDER plans before rookies report on Tuesday, the players will report so they aren’t in violation of their contracts, but the NFLPA will quickly file a grievance to get that camp shut down.
More likely, the IDER plans for the other 30 teams will get submitted and approved by Tuesday morning.
▪ With COVID-19 cases spiking in NFL cities such as Miami, Houston, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, Tretter called an impromptu phone call on Thursday night with the head team physicians in those cities to ask questions about the safety of returning to football in those environments.
“Holding them accountable,” Smith said. “How are you reaching a decision about whether and to what extent it is safe to start camp in these hot spot areas? And what criteria are you going to use into what extent it’s safe to continue to operate?”
Smith said that the doctors expressed some reservations about the spiking caseloads, but that their data says it is still safe to open training camps in those hot spots.
▪ There will be barely any tackling in training camp this year, and that’s one reason the NFLPA may get its wish of no preseason games. The joint medical committee between the NFL and NFLPA looked at the injury data from the 2011 lockout year — which had a 25 percent injury increase from the previous year — and decided on a slow ramp-up to contact this year. The reacclimation process is even slower because unlike in 2011, players this year couldn’t find a place to work out.
“This year guys went over a month without being able to train, so I would argue guys are in worse shape than in the lockout [year],” Tretter said.
The training camp schedule will likely be:
Three days of testing and equipment fitting;
21 days of conditioning-only workouts (of which there can only be workouts on 12 of the 21 days);
10 days of non-contact practices;
14 days of full-contact practices (with 10 days of practice, two off days, and two non-practice days).
Given this time frame, players will only start tackling at the end of August, and will have about two weeks to get ready for the regular season. This schedule was recommended by the joint medical committee, and will be tough for the NFL to deviate from. So unfortunately for the owners, who make good money off local TV broadcasts, the preseason games may not fit into the schedule this year.
▪ The NFL and NFLPA have not announced the testing protocol yet. The union is fighting hard for daily testing, with a turnaround of less than 24 hours (and in some cases, the result can be had in 4-6 hours). The type of testing hasn’t been decided but is likely to be a nasal swab, at least at first. The NFLPA is hopeful to be able to transition to a saliva test in a month or two, but for now those are not reliable enough.
But it wouldn’t be a nasal swab that is jammed into the back of the nose, a.k.a. a “brain scraper.” The swab would just need to be inserted into the tip of the nose to collect a sample. And players will also take an antibody test when they report to camp, which will likely be a finger prick.
TAKING ANOTHER HIT
Harassment allegations add to woes in D.C.
The Washington football team has had an unusual amount of dysfunction this offseason, even by its standards. The team’s top sponsors threatened to withdraw from their agreements and pull team gear off their websites if owner Dan Snyder didn’t change the team name. Snyder’s limited partners all put their ownership shares up for sale. And this past week, three executives — two from the football department and the radio play-by-play voice for 16 years — abruptly left the team with no explanation.
Thursday afternoon, we learned why. The Washington Post released a damning report in which 15 women accused the team of fostering a working environment of “relentless” sexual harassment and verbal abuse from 2006-19. Director of pro personnel Alex Santos, assistant director of pro personnel Richard Mann II, and Larry Michael, the longtime radio voice and lead content producer, all left the team after several allegations of unwelcome sexual advances and comments to female employees. Two other team executives and confidants of Snyder were also accused of harassment, but Snyder, who has owned the team since 1999, was not directly accused.
That the team has a toxic and demeaning culture should not be surprising to anyone who has followed Snyder over the last two decades. The team under Snyder’s watch is like a grand Newport mansion that has fallen into squalor and is beyond repair.
Washington has the sixth-worst record in the NFL in his tenure (and just two playoff wins in 21 years). Snyder has fought fans and media with petty lawsuits and charged $25 for parking on Fan Appreciation Day. He stubbornly refused to change the team’s racist name. And his team has been objectifying women for years, using its cheerleaders as escorts and entertainment for their executives and top clients, per a 2018 New York Times story.
In response to the Post report, Snyder hired attorney Beth Wilkinson and her firm “to conduct a thorough independent review of this entire matter and help the team set new employee standards for the future.” The NFL said in a statement that the allegations were “serious, disturbing, and contrary to the NFL’s values,” but the league won’t be doing its own investigation. Curiously, the NFL instead will rely on Wilkinson’s report, and use the findings to determine if action should be taken.
The NFL may punish the team with fines or forfeiture of draft picks, but unlike former Clippers owner Donald Sterling and former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Snyder was not directly accused of impropriety, making it seem unlikely that the NFL will force him to sell his team.
But one of the most eye-opening details of the Post report was that Washington had just one full-time human resources staffer for an organization with 220 employees, and that there was never any realistic opportunity to report sexual harassment. That is an embarrassing organizational structure and lack of oversight for a company as powerful and profitable as the Washington football team.
Moving forward, the NFL must bring uniformity to HR departments and sexual harassment policies. The league must require each team to have a minimum level of staffing in its HR department. The NFL also must have uniform sexual harassment education for every league employee, and must codify the processes for reporting sexual harassment. Perhaps the NFL should set up a sexual harassment hotline in the league office for employees to have a safe, centralized way to speak out against their bosses.
Because as the Washington situation makes clear, some teams can’t be trusted to handle the issue themselves.
Prescott, Cowboys ready to part ways?
Dak Prescott made a total of $4.05 million over his first four NFL seasons, and is guaranteed to make $31.4 million this year on his franchise tag, so the 2020 season will be a win for him no matter what.
But it certainly was curious that the Cowboys couldn’t reach a long-term extension with Prescott before the July 15 deadline. As we saw this offseason with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, Kirk Cousins and the Vikings, and Ryan Tannehill and the Titans, a team that truly believes in its quarterback will work in concert with the player to get a deal done.
But the Cowboys stood firm, and so did Prescott, giving a strong indication that the team and player have different opinions about his value and performance. The Cowboys like Prescott, but only at a certain number.
Only two other quarterbacks have ever played a season on the franchise tag — Drew Brees with New Orleans in 2012, and Cousins with Washington in 2016 and 2017. Brees and the Saints worked out their differences, but Cousins eventually left in free agency.
If Prescott has a big year, then he’ll certainly cash in next offseason, from the Cowboys or another team. But the fact that he and the Cowboys couldn’t come to an agreement now certainly increases the chances that Prescott won’t be long for America’s Team.
Players need to buy in
Last month, it was Tom Brady and his teammates ignoring NFLPA guidance and holding group workouts. This month, it was a few dozen offensive linemen gathering in Dallas for the OL Masterminds summit to work on technique and trade secrets.
Organizers of the event, which included Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson, did provide COVID-19 testing for all participants. But testing isn’t perfect, of course, and the event had very little social distancing, masks were optional, and there was even a wing-eating contest at the end.
They are hardly the only young athletes not taking the pandemic seriously enough. But it once again brings to the forefront the importance of the players buying in to the NFL’s protocols for the 2020 season. The NFL’s medical experts can design the best social distancing and testing policies in the world, but if the players don’t take them seriously, it won’t matter.
To prove the point, the NFLPA is having Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth share his experience with COVID-19. Whitworth said Friday that one family member innocuously went out to lunch with a friend, and it resulted in himself and six other family members getting the virus. Whitworth said he, his wife, and children had mild cases, but his father-in-law had to be hospitalized.
“All it takes is one exposure, and my story is an example of that,” Whitworth said. “You realize how contagious this thing is. It doesn’t take much and it can spread like wildfire.”
Former Chargers team doctor David Chao believes that smart teams will treat COVID-19 prevention as a competitive advantage. The healthier a team, the better its chances.
“If I were still a head team physician, I would try to educate the team, and especially the core players, about why it’s important to stay at home and how it could be an advantage,” Chao said.
Quite a roller coaster for Browns pass rusher Myles Garrett over the last eight months. Last November, he was suspended for the final six games of the season and became a national pariah after pulling off the helmet of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph during a melee and swinging it as a weapon. Now reinstated by Roger Goodell and preparing for the 2020 season, Garrett signed a five-year, $125 million contract extension this past week, tying him in with the Browns through the 2026 season. Garrett, a former No. 1 overall pick, has not had any other issues during his three-year NFL career, and has compiled 30.5 sacks in 37 NFL games. He is just blossoming into a star pass rusher, and the Browns likely used the 2019 incident to get Garrett at a slight discount … Running back Derrick Henry did well for himself this offseason, and the Titans made sure to keep him happy. Henry, the 2019 rushing leader who helped lead the Titans to a surprise trip to the AFC Championship game, was going to make about $10 million this year on the franchise tag, and another tag would pay him about $12 million next year. Instead, Henry signed a four-year deal that is only guaranteed for two seasons, but will pay him $25 million instead of the $22 million he had coming via the tag. The Titans keep their star player happy, but didn’t fall into the trap of making a significant long-term investment in a running back … More proof that the salary cap is mostly fluff: On March 30, the Chiefs had $177 in cap space — yes, you read that right — and they finished their offseason by signing Mahomes to a $500 million contract and Chris Jones to a four-year, $85 million deal.