Amidst the mayhem over the course of the past few weeks, the NFL has passed a new CBA. It’s incredibly important, but it’s also very complicated. We’ll start with the basics. The CBA stands for Collective Bargaining Agreement. The parties this agreement is between is the NFL and the NFLPA. The NFLPA is the league’s body of player representation – run by players and former players. The NFL is obviously represented by the commissioner and the corporate office. Each side has their legal team of lawyers.
Now that we know the who, it’s time to sort through the what. The CBA basically ensures labor peace between the league and its employees, and typically each CBA is a 10-year contract. This is beneficial for multiple reasons. It gives players who may not be superstars the assurance that there won’t be a strike and they don’t have to worry about missing a season’s worth of game checks. For the league, it eliminates the risk of losing millions upon millions of dollars in revenue – which would happen in the event of a strike or lockout. With a CBA in place, the NFL can negotiate TV deals, complete partnerships and ad agreements, ensure stadium revenue, and the litany of other business ventures.
For this particular CBA, the key issues have revolved around the league’s proposal to add a 17th regular season game, as well as add a 7th team to the playoffs and remove a BYE from the #2 seed in each conference, thus creating additional playoff games on wild card weekend. The use of the franchise and transition tag will also be changed. For those that may not know, the franchise tag enables a team to hang on to a single player with which they’ve failed to reach a contract agreement with. The player will be unable to hit free agency for another year but will be paid by an average of the highest five salaries on the books at his position leaguewide. The transition tag works similarly. In years prior, a team could use one of each in every off-season. Now, franchises can only use one tag, regardless of whether it’s the transition or the franchise.
Tweaks that have gone more under the radar include a bump in the minimum salary from $500k to eventually $1.065 million by 2030. In return for the extra games, the NFLPA also went from taking 47% of revenue to 48%, which seems insignificant – but with the NFL earning nearly $15 billion per year (Bloomberg, 2018), it’s a substantial amount. Another tweak that may seem minor is the removal of testing for marijuana. Again, it may not seem important to the average person, but for people like Josh Gordon – who had his whole career derailed by it, it goes a long way. Lastly, in return for playing a 17th regular season game, the NFL is eliminating one of its four preseason games permanently – which mainly impacts rookies and borderline players, not the starters.
For everything that’s changing under the new CBA, there are several key points of contention that will not be altered. Contract structures aside from the raise in base pay at the lower level will not change. Under the current structure, rookies drafted in the first round have five-year contracts with a team option built in after year four. It was speculated the NFLPA would want this changed, since the average NFL career is much shorter than that of an NBA or MLB player because of the sport’s physicality. And while the franchise and transition tag can no longer be used simultaneously, teams are still allowed to use a single tag each off-season – and are still able to tag the same player in back-to-back years if they so choose. A real-life example of this would be the Kirk Cousins situation in Washington.
This new CBA enables the NFL to negotiate what is likely to be a historic round of TV deals, and the salary cap for teams is expected to rise substantially over the next decade with the league in as healthy of shape financially as it’s ever been. The players do benefit from this, but one must wonder if the NFLPA won enough of the key issues. Its association will now be required to give the league an extra regular season game, potentially an extra playoff game (if you’re the #2 or #7 seed), and by proxy one less off-season week. In return, they received a slight bump in pay for the minimum pay player and one percentage point in collective revenue. They also were able to eliminate the use of multiple tags, but unable to significantly change contract structure or use of that tag in any significant way. The CBA certainly benefits the league and at the end of the day, that’s what the average fan cares about, whether they admit that or not. But you have to wonder if the players will regret this deal in four or five years like they did the last one.