NFL owners are scheduled to meet Thursday in New York as they possibly near the completion of a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association that eventually would include a 17-game regular season and, even sooner, an expansion of the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams, likely beginning next season.
While the 17-game season would not take effect immediately, the league and owners would plan for the expanded playoffs to be implemented in the 2020 season, according to people familiar with the deliberations. One of those people sounded a note of slight caution, though, saying the 14-team playoff field “probably” would take effect next season.
Seven teams in each conference would qualify for the postseason instead of the current six. One team in each conference, rather than the current two, would receive an opening-round playoff bye. That would make for six first-round playoff games (three in each conference) instead of the current four, one of which might be played on a Monday night.
The expansion of the playoff field has been considered by the owners for years and has been part of this proposed CBA all along. The one mild surprise is that the league and owners intend for it to take effect immediately. It had been thought that the expanded playoffs, like the 17-game regular season, might be tied to a new set of TV deals.
Owners were told by the league that they will be updated Thursday on the state of the negotiations. It’s not clear whether the owners will take a ratification vote on the proposed CBA during Thursday afternoon’s special meeting, which was hastily scheduled by the league. Several people familiar with the deliberations called such an approval vote Thursday by the owners possible but not certain, and one said: “The league wouldn’t be having the owners all travel to New York for nothing.”
On the NFLPA side, the player reps for the 32 teams are scheduled to speak by conference call Friday. That call was scheduled after initial plans for an in-person meeting late this week in Washington were scrapped over logistical issues.
The latest flurry of activity comes as the two sides attempt to apply the finishing touches to the near-deal. “We’re all working hard to get this done,” one person close to the negotiations said.
For the new CBA to go into effect, it would have to be approved by at least 24 of the 32 owners. On the players’ side, it would have to be ratified by at least two-thirds of the 32 player reps, then by a majority of all players.
It appears that both sides hope to have a new CBA completed and ratified before March 18, the start of the new league year and the opening of the NFL’s free agent market. Some but not all provisions of the new CBA would take effect immediately if it is approved before the start of the league year.
According to people familiar with the negotiations, the NFLPA has sought a series of additional concessions from the league and owners to make a 17-game season more palatable to the players’ side. The owners are to consider the players’ most recent demands during Thursday’s meeting in New York, according to one person familiar with the league’s planning. The owners could accept or reject those demands, according to that person, or they could ratify changes to the proposed CBA that would fall between what the league has offered and what the players sought in this latest round of negotiations.
The proposed CBA would last for 10 years and would give the players approximately 48.3 percent of the league’s revenue under the salary cap system. The regular season would be extended from 16 to 17 games per team beginning at some point in the early stages of the new CBA, likely between the 2021 and 2023 seasons.