With everything going on in the world right now, I wish there was a better time to be writing this. But with the NFL Players Association vote on the league’s collective bargaining agreement ending on Saturday, I wanted to make sure an opinion outside of the mainstream was made public and read by any players who still haven’t voted. I’ve seen firsthand how hard NFL players work — the literal blood, sweat and tears that they put into winning games at great risk of injury. These labor negotiations are the only chance players have at improving their working conditions, so conducting them thoroughly and thoughtfully is of utmost importance.
I have been playing pro football for several years, mostly as a member of NFL practice squads. But even though I’m only a fringe roster player, my vote on the latest proposed CBA still counts the same as the votes of star players like Aaron Rodgers, Richard Sherman and Ryan Fitzpatrick — and I have a much different perspective on it than they do. Guys like me hugely outnumber the players who are the actual faces of the league, and that seems to be why people think this deal will pass. If it does, 60% of players who were on a minimum salary last year will get not only a pay raise, but also annuity benefits and an increased pension. There will also be a third party handing out most disciplinary penalties (not an all-powerful commissioner), as well as a capped number of training camp practices in pads. Those are all good things.
But as expected in any labor negotiation, there are both positives and negatives to the proposed CBA. And I think the negatives in this deal outweigh the positives, and that’s why I’ll be voting NO.
My vote on the latest proposed CBA still counts the same as the votes of star players.
As members of a union, whose power is in the collective, it’s an absolute necessity to think about all aspects of the deal, not just the short-term benefit of an increase in pay if you are able to make a roster again next year. And evaluated as a whole, the proposed CBA doesn’t come close to giving players enough benefits in exchange for us taking on the additional risk of playing a 17th game — a giant concession on the part of the NFLPA.
The marginal gains don’t justify the monumental cost of an additional game.
The addition of a 17th regular-season game and an extra postseason game are huge changes — their potential impact on players cannot be overstated. I don’t know any NFL player who has ever said the season was too short. And you don’t go from 17 games back to 16, or even back to 14 like it once was.
In the 2011 CBA negotiations, adding games was a nonstarter for the NFLPA. There was a reason for that. Football is a fundamentally violent and inherently dangerous sport. Adding a game means that, no matter how much safer the game has gotten, more players will be hurt more often per year. A study on the effects of an 18-game season concluded it would reduce the length of the average career by more than 15% (from 3.3 years to 2.8). Adding games does somewhat offset whatever monetary gains that would come from an increase in salary. How can a league say player health and safety is its top priority and then make a 17th game non-negotiable? It’s the NFLPA’s stance from 2011 flipped on its head.
Unfortunately, despite caving on this monumental item in this proposal, we don’t get a corresponding non-negotiable back from the owners. Perhaps one would be a 50-50 revenue share. But the owners are only offering a 1–1.5% increase back toward the more equitable percentage that we lost in the 2011 deal. The proposed CBA does increase minimum salaries — a solid provision that should be part of any agreement going forward — but not as much as players wanted when we entered negotiations.
Other areas of disagreement that players gain no ground on in this deal include the franchise and transition tags staying the same, the lengths of rookie contracts staying the same, RFA qualifying offers still not being guaranteed, and fines increasing (and being made mandatory) for veteran players who hold out from training camp. We are giving up a lot and not getting much in return.
The increasing of rosters from 53 to 55 on game days by allowing two practice squad players to be active (practice squad rosters would increase from 10 to 14), should not be accepted in lieu of a permanent increase of the 53-man roster.
Under the proposed terms of the CBA, a p-squad player could only be brought up two times in a season. It’s easy to imagine this leading to players being brought up for two games, and then sent back down or cut in exchange for someone who could be brought up later. Allowing practice squad guys to play on game day also makes fringe roster players much more expendable. Got slightly injured or didn’t get the job done this week? We’ll have a practice squad guy up in your place next week. This will make rosters turn over even more often than they already do, which is something that I can tell you from experience really sucks about playing in the NFL.
Increasing the size of the p-squad is also not a universal good. Guys on p-squad don’t accrue seasons, meaning their years in the NFL don’t count in some important ways — they don’t count toward credit for lifetime benefits, nor do they count toward free agency. This means that if it takes a player two years on the p-squad to develop into an NFL starter, he won’t be cashing in on free agency until after he’s been in the league for six years instead of four. By that time, he’ll be about 28 and starting to get past his prime, which will limit his contract negotiating power. As a union we should not be lobbying for a change that will put more guys into this state of purgatory.
If we’re playing a 17-game schedule, and 48 guys are going to be active, the 53-man roster must increase permanently, not the practice squad. Adding two roster spots would only cost slightly more than adding four p-squad guys. Moreover, it would likely push our depressingly low average career length up from 3.3 years — more spots on the team means more spots for young players and aging veterans alike to occupy. More spots also means fewer guys feeling pressured to play through serious injuries. Further, adding roster spots would allow teams to get more creative with who they keep on their rosters. Maybe more teams will have the space to take a chance on exciting players like Taysom Hill. It would be good for owners and players, a hard to find win-win.
The players who know the ins and outs of the deal best voted against it.
The NFLPA executive committee voted to not recommend the new CBA by a 7–4 margin. That’s a big freaking deal. They were the only players actually at the negotiating table with the owners, and thus have the most knowledge of the tradeoffs. The majority either think this deal cannot be accepted or they feel that we can get a better deal in a year.
The 32 player reps then passed it by just three votes, not exactly a resounding consensus. If we’re already making the huge concession of agreeing to play additional games, any deal struck should have much more widespread support from the players tasked with representing everyone. The owners, meanwhile, passed this deal with the approval of more than three-fourths of their membership.
The terms are not favorable enough to justify this being the longest CBA in any major professional sport.
It’s an 11-year deal expiring after the 2030 season, meaning that players would be forfeiting the right to collectively bargain for anything we want for more than a decade. Players used to sign shorter CBAs — agreeing to terms or extending previous agreements in 1993, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2006 — which allowed for more flexibility to make changes. In 2011, we changed course and signed a 10 year deal. That’s part of the reason these current negotiations are so difficult: There is so much we want to change after living through 10 years of the unforeseen consequences of the last agreement.
Yet a union’s best method of change is incremental, and incremental change every 10 years does not get you very far. We shouldn’t make the same mistake again. Or, if we do feel we have to go with a longer deal, it should be an obvious home run for players — which this deal clearly isn’t.
Voting yes for a marginally beneficial deal does not recognize our collective power as a union.
A big selling point for voting in favor of this deal was that the next couple of months were going to be the absolute best time to negotiate our league’s expiring TV contracts, which require labor peace. Negotiate now, we were told, and we’ll get better TV contracts, which will benefit both players and owners. The recent effects of the Coronavirus on the world, the economy, and the sports landscape have clearly made that argument obsolete.
This is not the best deal we’re going to get. We will be better prepared and better informed a year from now. While players don’t want a strike or a lockout, owners certainly don’t want one either — just ask the NBA. In 1998 the league missed 31 games, and a poll conducted after the strike was over showed that almost 30% of fans viewed the league more negatively.
This is not the best deal we’re going to get.
The NFLPA hasn’t gone on strike in 33 years, and while that one didn’t end well for players, 2020 is a totally different landscape. The modern player is better prepared for a work stoppage than any other in our history. We not only make more money, but we also have access to social media, where it is easier to organize and we are able to make our voices heard.
And as a union we are much better prepared than we were in 2011. The NFLPA increased dues a couple of years ago and began accumulating a “war chest” to be used in the event of a work stoppage. I bring up these points not because I want a fight, but to stop people from saying, “The owners are billionaires, we stand no chance against them.” That is quite literally the entire purpose for having a labor union. As individuals you are relatively powerless, but as a collective there is real bargaining power — as long as players realize it.
Things shouldn’t have to come to a strike or a lockout. Our executive committee still has a year to negotiate a CBA that a majority of them will be proud of. But the deal as proposed right now — which is prohibitively long and adds a hugely burdensome 17th game, yet does not add roster spots or have a 50-50 revenue split — should not pass.