INDIANAPOLIS — While you were likely sleeping Tuesday night, the NFL Players Association took a major step forward in ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement. The 32 player representatives voted to agree to the offer from the owners — barely, by a 17-14-1 margin — and to send the offer to all 2,000 players to be voted upon. This came after the owners and NFLPA spent about four hours negotiating in the Conrad hotel.
The players will vote on the offer in the next couple of weeks, and all it needs is a simple majority (50 percent plus one of the total votes cast) to be passed. If ratified, the CBA will last through the 2030 season.
In Sunday’s Globe, I wrote about many of the particulars of the deal, and how the players got a few interesting concessions, but the owners didn’t budge on many of the major financial battlegrounds.
Here is a look at what took place Tuesday night and where things stand:
■ The owners submitted their offer to the players last Thursday after months of negotiating, and several NFLPA executive committee members were not pleased with the particulars of the 17th regular-season game. What pushed the deal over the top on Tuesday night was that the owners agreed to remove the cap of $250,000 salary for the 17th game, the only real concession the owners made in the new offer.
Of course, this was a minor concession — it only affects about 150 players who are under contract in 2021 and make more than $250,000 per week. Not to mention, under the previous offer, players were still able to negotiate their pay for that 17th game and were not bound to the $250,000 cap.
Call me cynical, but it sounds like the owners were planning to remove that cap the whole time, and did it on Tuesday night to make it look like a deal sweetener. As a longtime agent told me on Wednesday, “Always leave a little something for the end of the deal. Make the other party feel good about what they’re getting.”
■ There is no hard date for a vote. Per reports, the NFLPA will need a week or possibly two to draft the documents and prepare for the vote.
But time is definitely of the essence, as league business is moving forward. The franchise tag window was pushed back two days, and will now run Feb. 27-March 12. The new league year could also be pushed back from its current March 18 date, but the NFL doesn’t want the union dragging its feet on this. If the sides are going to agree to this deal, it has to happen ASAP, so teams can start with offseason business.
■ The deal is being couched in some circles as bringing labor “peace” to the NFL for the next 10 years, and it is certainly true that the NFL would not have to worry about negotiating a new CBA for a full decade. But it hardly would bring peace. Plenty of players have and will grumble about this deal.
While the players got some nice concessions — immediate raises for minimum-salary players, increases in pensions, relaxed rules for marijuana testing, among others — the deal is still heavily tilted in the owners’ favor. Drafted players still can’t renegotiate their rookie contracts until after three years, which significantly depresses the free agency market. Team spending minimums are still way too low, and teams can still roll over large piles of unused salary cap space. And it doesn’t appear that any changes are being made to the rookie wage structure or franchise tag, which also suppresses player earnings.
And the deal is creating plenty of division among the players. After Tuesday’s session with the owners ended around 9 p.m., NFLPA leaders debated and argued about the offer until nearly 1 a.m. Fourteen of the 32 player reps turned it down. Seven of the 11 members of the executive committee, who actually spent months negotiating the deal that got offered last week, voted it down. Russell Wilson, Maurkice Pouncey, and Aaron Rodgers were vehemently against the deal. But 17 player reps voted for it, and the expectation from many around the league is that the players will ratify this deal.
■ The brilliance of this offer from the owners is that it turns the players against themselves. The league’s older veterans and star players seem to be aligned against the deal. But the league’s rank-and-file players seem to be for it, because the deal calls for immediate increases of $90,000 or more to minimum salaries.
For a player such as undrafted Patriots rookie Jakobi Meyers, it’s nothing to sneeze at — he made $505,000 last year, is set to make $585,000 in 2020, but instead would make $675,000 if he makes the team. Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, who averaged $633,000 a year in his first two seasons, would see his 2020 salary increase from $660,000 to $750,000.
And there are a lot more Jakobi Meyerses and Ja’Whaun Bentleys in the NFL than there are Russell Wilsons and Aaron Rodgerses.
Meanwhile, Rodgers reportedly was upset about the deal and wants more time off in the offseason — which is good for him but not good for a lot of the young guys who need to develop and impress their coaches just to stick in the NFL.
The problem with the NFLPA in these negotiations is the player body is so diverse and fractured. Most players don’t really care about the long-term future of the league, they just want to play a few years in the NFL and make a little money. The owners are filthy rich, cunning, and more emotionally and financially invested in the league.
■ Roger Goodell’s long-standing goal as NFL commissioner has been to increase the league’s revenues to $25 billion annually. One league insider said Tuesday night that the NFL is currently generating approximately $16 billion, and this new CBA could see revenues spike to $20 billion, thanks to the 17-game schedule and two extra playoff games.
The NFL has become the only reliable money-maker on television, and the insider said that the networks are ready to hand over boatloads of money to the NFL. The league’s TV deals all expire in 2021 or 2022, and the NFL wants a new CBA now so it can get cracking on the new TV deals right away.
■ But there may not be an immediate increase in the 2020 salary cap, because the 17-game schedule won’t take effect until 2021 at the earliest. But the increases in minimum salaries would take effect right away. So teams that are tight against the salary cap, such as the Vikings and Jaguars, have to account for an extra few million dollars that will need to be spent on rookie and minimum-salary players.
■ Tuesday night’s negotiating session had a distinct Patriots flavor. Robert Kraft flew in for the day to participate as one of eight owners on the NFL management executive council. Ben Watson participated as one of 11 NFLPA executive committee members. And Matthew Slater also was in the room, one of the few player reps to come to Indianapolis for the proceedings.
■ How badly is the owner-player power dynamic tilted in favor of the owners? Per the NFLPA fact sheet of the CBA, one of the concessions the players would get in this new CBA is “adding vision coverage to health plans.” Think about that — the NFL is a $16 billion industry, and until now, players didn’t get vision coverage in their health insurance, which is standard in most workplaces.