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NFL players approve labor deal, including 17-game season

Eric Winston, president of the NFL Players Association, speaks at the annual state of the NFLPA press conference, in Miami Beach, Fla. (AP Photo)
Eric Winston, president of the NFL Players Association, speaks at the annual state of the NFLPA press conference, in Miami Beach, Fla. (AP Photo)(WTOK)
Published: Mar. 16, 2020 at 3:16 AM CDT
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By a close vote, with some 500 union members not participating, NFL players approved a new labor agreement with the league. It features a 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 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, with one abstention.

Clearly, there was some strong player opposition to this collective bargaining agreement, though. Many stars, including Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, J.J. Watt and Todd Gurley, spoke out against it. The total vote, among the nearly 2,500 union members who participated, was 1,019-959. Ratification required a simple majority — results were announced Sunday — and there could be lasting resentment among union members, given how close the vote was.

“Can’t believe we agreed to that lol,” Colts tight end Eric Ebron tweeted. “We can only play this game for so long and y’all didn’t want everything we could get out of it? ... 2030 y’all do better.”

Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey expressed displeasure about the turnout for voting.

“Around 500 players didn’t even vote on the new CBA ...,” he tweeted. “It’s good and bad to this deal. I could see why anyone would vote either way. I just think it’s amazing guys don’t even care.”

Almost immediately, players were urging unity, particularly in the face of the criticism from within their ranks about approving the deal.

After discussions with the union during the day, the NFL sent a memo to all teams Sunday night that the league will open the 2020 NFL business season on Wednesday, as scheduled, with free agency and trades. A delay had been considered a possibility given league restrictions on travel as a safeguard against the new coronavirus.

There was no immediate word on timing and potential format changes for the draft, scheduled for Las Vegas from April 23-25, something that was also expected to be discussed by the NFL and NFLPA.

A 17-game schedule won’t happen before the 2021 season. 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 nonissue with the players in 2011, when the current 10-year deal was finalized after a 4 1/2 month lockout. It has upset many of them as it will become a reality in another season or so.

The gains the players make in the new agreement in sharing “a bigger portion of the growing pie,” according to outgoing NFLPA President Eric Winston, swayed the vote.

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.

—A reduction of the preseason, initially from four games to three. More time off during training camps.

—Upgraded pensions, with the addition of groups of previous players not included in past agreements.

—Two more roster spots per team’s practice squad, with players having more freedom to move up to the regular roster and back. Two more will be added later in the agreement.

—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, but the owners were able to do so without union approval. That will 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.

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