The NFL and NFL Players Association have agreed to revise the recently-agreed-to collective bargaining agreement to reflect the realities faced by teams and players during the COVID-19 pandemic. The league sent memos to the NFLPA on Monday reflecting changes made regarding both economics and operations.
In a move that will save each team approximately $17 million in 2020, the NFL will not be required to fund the Second Career Savings Plan, Player Annuity Program, Severance Pay, Performance Based Pool, Tuition Assistance Plan, Postseason pay for any bye weeks, Pro Bowl Game pay, or NFL Player Capital Accumulation pay (other than applicable administrative costs) during the 2020 season. The league and players also agreed to reduce the salary cap for 2020 in the event of any cancelled regular season games, with the teams receiving a cap credit to cover any compensation reduction.
To account for the potential economic impact of (for example) a lack of fans in the stands during 2020 games, the league and players agreed to spread that impact over the 2021, 2022, and, if necessary, 2023 league years. This means that the potential for a massive, league-altering drop in the salary cap for the 2021 season is less likely, with teams instead likely seeing a smaller reduction (or smaller increase, if revenues return to usual levels after 2020) in each of the next three years.
The sides also agreed to a compensation plan in the event of a cancelled or suspended season, with players generally receiving performance bonuses, workout bonuses, roster bonuses, and salary for performance milestones, workouts, and games that actually take place (with performance and games-played milestones being prorated to account for the number of actual games played), and, in the event of a cancelled season, players who are on the roster at the time of the cancellation receiving a stipend (and in most but not all cases, health insurance coverage).
Regarding players that elect to opt out of the 2020 season, the league and players agreed to remove those players' prorated signing bonuses from their team's 2020 books and roll them over to the following season, potentially creating millions in cap room that can be used to either replace those players for this season or be rolled over to the 2021 season, allowing those teams to offset the impact of the expected salary cap drop.
For example, as explained by ESPN's Dan Graziano, the Denver Broncos see an immediate $13 million increase in their 2020 cap space as a result of tackle Ja'Waun James opting out of participating in the season. The terms of his contract that were originally set for the 2020 and 2021 campaigns instead roll over and become the terms for the 2021 and 2022 seasons. The New England Patriots will perhaps benefit from this change more than any other team, since more Patriot players have opted out than those on any other team.
To account for potential difficulties induced by the pandemic, the league and players also agreed to expand practice squad sizes from six to 16 for the 2020 season. They agreed to keep that expansion for the 2021 season as well, if the COVID-19 Testing and Treatment Protocols remain in effect for that season.
Additionally, during the regular season, teams will be allowed to designate four of their 16 practice-squad players who will not be allowed to sign a contract with a different team between Tuesday of game-week at 4 p.m. ET and the day following the team's next game. (For example, teams that play on Sunday can designate four players who cannot sign with a different team until the following Monday, at the earliest.) Teams will also be allowed to activate a practice-squad player on game days up until 90 minutes before kickoff if a player on the active roster tests positive (or needs to be preventively quarantined) after the Saturday at 4 p.m. deadline.
There were also changes made to the injured reserve lists. An unlimited number of players will be allowed to be designated for return from the injured list during the 2020 season. The designated for return procedures were further modified so that players will be eligible to return to practices and/or games after three regular season games or postseason weeks following their placement on Injured Reserve. Teams will then have an additional 21 days to activate players after they have been designated to return to practice.
The league also created an additional roster designation (that we have already seen several teams use) of Reserve/COVID-19. Players are placed on this list until they are cleared by the Testing and/or Treatment Protocols, and will continue to receive their salary. The team will be granted a roster exemption based on the number of weeks the player stays on the list. The league and players also agreed to treat any positive coronavirus tests during the season (i.e. any time between the initial coronavirus tests taking place at the beginning of training camp, and the player's exit interview after the season's conclusion) as football-related injuries for all purposes under the CBA.
However, the league and/or team may seek to rebut the football-related designation if it can prove in a grievance that the player's positive test resulted from their engaging in high-risk conduct, such as attending a club, bar, concert, professional sporting event, or other event that is prohibited by local regulations, without proper PPE and social distancing. The league and players also agreed that coaches and other staff members will be subject to the high-risk conduct rules, and that all members of the organization subject to those rules can be disciplined for conduct detrimental.
Players and staffers can additionally be disciplined for refusing to submit to a coronavirus test, refusing to wear a mask or other PPE, refusing to wear the tracking devices required by the Treatment Protocol (after a warning), and refusing to maintain social distancing in club facilities (after a warning), so long as the team publishes and makes available a complete list of discipline that could be imposed for violating those rules. Additionally, the commissioner may impose discipline on teams that fail to impose discipline on coaches, medical staffers, trainers, and other members of the organization who engage in high-risk conduct.