After four months, the negotiation is complete. Football is officially back — though getting it started was the easy part.
The NFL owners and NFL Players Association finalized their deal Friday evening, with the NFL player reps voting, 29-3, in favor of the owners’ proposal that sets the economic and training camp terms for the 2020 season.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging in parts of the country, the owners and union negotiated an entire new set of rules over the last four months. The health and safety rules include protocols for daily testing, how a player or coach will be treated, and procedures for social distancing at the team facility and for travel. Friday, the sides wrapped up the far more complicated negotiation into the financial terms of this season, which includes increased roster sizes and contingencies for the possibility of missed games.
All preseason games have been canceled, but training camp will start on time, with all players expected to report early next week.
“The season will undoubtedly present new and additional challenges, but we are committed to playing a safe and complete 2020 season, culminating with the Super Bowl,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
Let’s take a look at the terms agreed to on Friday, which come from NFL and NFLPA sources:
▪ Here is the training camp schedule, which will look nothing like in years past:
Days 1-4: COVID testing, on days 1 and 4, quarantining and virtual meetings on all days.
Days 5-6: Physicals for players who pass their two COVID tests.
Days 7-15: Strength/conditioning/walk-throughs.
Days 16-20: Four practices with helmets and shells.
Day 21: Teams can hold a maximum of 14 padded practices starting on Aug. 17.
So players on the roster bubble will have about three weeks of full-contact practices, and no preseason games, to impress their coaches.
▪ The owners won on the most important aspect of the negotiation — ensuring that players only receive prorated salaries this year. The NFLPA had a good argument based on the collective bargaining agreement that if just one game were played, every player would be owed his entire season’s salary. Now instead they only get paid for games played.
But there is a caveat — the NFL owners will create a fund for players who have fully guaranteed salaries for 2020. If any games are missed, those players will receive the balance of their guarantee at a later date.
▪ The players came away with a few key wins. One was their ability to smooth out the massive hit coming to the salary cap. Because the cap is directly tied to revenues, and the NFL expects a shortfall of about $4 billion this year (about 25 percent of revenues), each team was facing a salary cap reduction of about $70 million next year, or around $120 million-$130 million.
Instead, the salary cap floor will be $175 million next year, and the rest of the cap hits will be smoothed out through 2023. So while a cap decrease next year (down from $198 million this year) could mean bad news for mid-level veterans making $3 million-$5 million per year, it won’t be total havoc, with teams needing to release a bunch of players.
▪ Another win secured by the players was getting a two-tiered system for players who want to opt out of the season. The opt-out decision has to be made by Aug. 3 and is irrevocable, but also comes with a stipend.
For those who are considered medically high-risk, they can opt-out and receive a $350,000 stipend. Their contract will toll, and they will make in 2021 what they were supposed to make in 2020. But the $350,000 will not count against any salary.
For those who simply don’t want to take the risk this year, they can opt out and receive a $150,000 stipend. Their contract will toll, and the $150,000 will come out of their contract in 2021.
▪ Not only will roster-bubble players have a hard time making an impression on their coaches, but 10 of them will be out of a job sooner than expected. Teams will have to cut their rosters from 90 to 80, and have two options:
Cut their roster to 80 immediately.
Cut their roster to 80 by Aug. 16 (before contact practices begin).
▪ However, there will be more opportunities to make the team this season. Practice squads were expanded from 12 to 16 players, and six of the players can have an unlimited number of accrued seasons (this opens up more possibilities for older veterans). And four of the practice squad players will be protected from being poached by other teams.
Also, the sides agreed earlier in the week to allow teams to bring an unlimited number of players back from injured reserve this year, after missing just three games. The previous rules allowed teams to bring three players back after missing eight games.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.