After nearly four hours of meetings between players union representatives and members of the NFL’s negotiating committee Tuesday in Indianapolis, many questions remained.
Mainly, what’s next?
They got together to hash out their differences in a new labor agreement the owners approved last week. Both sides left the hotel without comment, though NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy issued a statement saying: “The meeting has just concluded and out of respect for the process, we’re not going to have any further comment at this time. ”
The NFL Players Association’s executive committee voted 6-5 against the contract on Friday, and the 32 player reps postponed any action while seeking a meeting with the league. Those player reps also must vote on the deal before the entire NFLPA membership does so.
That could happen later this week, but there still are some issues of contention between the two sides—enough to cause Tuesday’s meeting to last more than three hours. The current collective bargaining agreement expires in March 2021, but the owners are eager to get a new contract in place as soon as possible. That would enable them to begin looking toward new, lucrative broadcast deals, with a decade of labor peace assured.
But the players don’t appear to be in a rush to approve the new agreement that is the result of 10 months of negotiations between the sides. Indeed, several player reps last Friday night were adamant that more negotiating is needed.
The diciest topic is a 17-game schedule. Players have been firm and loud in opposition for years — dating back to before the 2011 lockout that ended with an agreement to the current labor deal. Mainly, the players have been citing safety reasons for not extending the regular season.
Owners have offered, among other things, two more roster spots, which some players believe isn’t enough, and a reduction of the preseason from four games to three.
Players also would have significantly fewer requirements in the offseason and in training camp.
This agreement, which would run through the 2030 season, also includes a boost in payment of overall revenues to the players. The amounts would depend on whether the season is 16 or 17 games.
There are also provisions for improving pensions for former players.
Expansion of the playoffs by one team in each conference is not a bargaining issue, but the owners would prefer player approval of a new CBA before instituting it. Still, that could occur for the upcoming season; the NFL has discussed a 14-team postseason field for years, and Commissioner Roger Goodell as far back as 2014 spoke of it happening.
Other items in the deal the owners approved include:
— A cap on the number of international games and that there would not be a full week of such contests. More likely is a continued mix of games in England (and other European sites) and Mexico. Most team schedules will have nine home games and eight road games in alternating years.
— Training camp padded practices would be reduced from a total of 28 to 16. A five-day acclimation period would precede summer practices. There would be more days off during camp—eight instead of five—and a limit on joint practices.
— No extra bye week in the regular season, something that had been discussed. However, teams would basically have two weeks to prepare for the season opener with the elimination of the fourth preseason game.
— Rosters would expand from 53 to 55, with 48 players able to dress for games rather than the current 46. Practice squads would go from 10 players to 12 and eventually to 14, probably by 2022. There would be more flexibility for protecting practice-squad players from becoming free agents.