There will be labor peace in the NFL for the next decade thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement passing by a razor-thin margin Sunday morning.
Exactly 1,978 players voted on the new CBA, with 1,019 voting yes to 959 no votes. The 51.5% yes vote (with about 500 players reportedly [and mind-blowingly] abstaining) shows that had 31 "yes'' players voted the other way, we wouldn't be talking about a new CBA.
It was known based off social-media reactions the past two weeks that the gulf between the stars and the rank-and-file players —those set to gain more than any from the new CBA — was wide. But this narrow passage indicates to me more than anything that players felt they weren't getting enough in return for the added 17th game.
Yes, it's easy to look back and play "what if?'' The process has been a grueling one that has frayed relationships among players on and off the NFLPA executive committee. And that we've guaranteed football for the next decade — pending the outcome of COVID-19 for this season — is good news for fans and, frankly, anyone like myself who talks and writes about football for a living.
But what about the items that were left on the table? Sure, there were fears that if this deal didn't pass, NFL team owners may wish to negotiate a worse deal for players. Fearmongering or not, that was a possibility espoused by several players publicly and by several owners privately.
The most glaring issue is the revenue split. The players go from an old CBA that represented 47% of the revenue split over the lifetime of the CBA to one in 2020 that will be 47% and increase to 48.5% once the 17th game is added. The players are inching toward a 50/50 split, but it's fair to wonder if the addition of another game is worth just one-and-a-half percentage points as other major North American sports leagues hover around the true split.
NFL players approved the new CBA, so what do you need to know? Former agent Joel Corry joins Will Brinson on the Pick Six Podcast to break it all down; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.
For what could have been, I look to a guide left by Sean Gilbert nearly six years ago. Gilbert, the former No. 3 overall pick in the 1992 draft, ran for NFLPA executive director in 2014 against DeMaurice Smith. Gilbert, now the head football coach at Livingstone College, ultimately lost out to Smith, but his platform lives on with bullet points that would have served the players today quite well.
Some of the items did pass in this CBA. The reduction of commissioner Roger Goodell's power in personal conduct issues, raises in minimum salary, preseason game reduction, increase in roster size and practice squad salary increases were all, to some degree or another, passed in this CBA. Other, more difficult points — like eliminating exclusions from "All Revenue" like Dallas Cowboys merchandizing—were never going to pass in 2014 or today or any time soon.
This new CBA continues the lock NFL team owners have on players from their rookie seasons through the first five to six years of their careers. In theory and regularly in practice, a team can keep a player on his rookie deal for four years, use the fifth-year option on a first-round pick and then franchise tag him into Year 6. No long-term commitment has to be extended by the club until that player is near, at or above 30 years old, and the team can keep a star player cost-controlled for what very well could be the majority of his career.
Gilbert proposed a reduction in rookie contracts from four years to three with no option for first-round picks. Salary renegotiations for rookies could begin after year 1 instead of after year 3 (see: Mahomes, Patrick). He also proposed the elimination of the transition tag and, knowing that eliminating the franchise tag would be a non-starter with team owners, proposed that teams could use a franchise tag just once on a player in his career. The idea behind these measures is to get players their fair-market value as early as possible in their careers.
Those same theoretical players did get some concessions in this new CBA. The fifth-year option will now be guaranteed at the time of its extension. There is no more financial distinction on the option between a top-10 pick and the rest of the first round. And there are incentives for Pro Bowl and All Pro nominations.
Still, though, team owners can control contracts on young players for the same length of time with this new CBA.
Two other points from Gilbert's proposal stand out to me today, six years later. And they deal specifically with how teams are constructed. Gilbert laid out a case for the elimination of compensatory draft selections while also forcing teams to spend 100% of the salary cap each year.
"Teams shall not be rewarded for refusing to sign their own Free Agents," according to the proposal regarding comp picks. This past week, 32 comp picks were given to 15 teams, including four to the New England Patriots.
As for the cash-spend, Gilbert wrote, "A Team must spend 100% of the 'SALARY CAP' each year. Any shortfall shall be paid by the Team having such shortfall, directly to the Players who were on such a Team's roster at any time during the season, pursuant to the reasonable allocation instructions of the NFLPA."
In the previous CBA, teams had to spend just 89% of the cash in four-year tranches. With the new CBA, that increases to 90% in 2021 with tranches of three, three and four years.
Though a slight improvement for the players, the lack of spending more cash together with the survival of compensatory picks will continue to encourage tanking — or something similar — for teams far away from the postseason.
As everyone in this process has noted, not everyone will be happy. It's likely that no one on either side is completely thrilled with the end result. That's how negotiations are supposed to work, and an American battle between billionaires on one side and millionaires on the other will end predictably.
But if players come away from this thinking they could have gotten more in return for that 17th game, I believe they're probably right.