by Chris Todd
With the NFL continuing its rapid growth and seemingly intent on dominating the airwaves all year round, there may be a spoke in the wheel approaching with the expiration of the NFL Competitive Bargaining Agreement after the 2020 season.
The current agreement came into force at the start of the 2011 season and came after a highly contentious and protracted battle which, for a time, looked like it might result in the 2011 season not being played at all after an extended holdout which lasted until late July.
Negotiations between the NFL and Players Association chief, DeMaurice Smith, are expected to centre around additional health and safety provisions, an extended 18 game regular season, increased revenue share for players and the commissioner’s unilateral authority to hand down punishments.
With Smith seemingly having laid down the battle lines in an email to agents advising them to urge their player clients to save money to prepare for the possibility of a ‘work stoppage of at least a year in length’, it would appear the NFLPA is determined to drive a hard bargain during negotiations. ESPN report that discussions are planned for this month may mean an early resolution or may be a precursor to troubled waters ahead.
Almost certainly, the NFLPA will push for a greater share of league revenues, the players currently receive between 47-48.5% (down from around 50% in previous CBA) and with revenues for the NFL continuing to rise, players will no doubt want a greater piece of the pie.
During 2017 the NFL had revenues of $14.2 billion but with gambling revenues set to explode, continued efforts toward NFL expansion, and many major TV contracts set to be renegotiated over the next few years, it’s easy to imagine the NFL’s coffers bursting at the seams in the coming years. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is believed to have targeted $25 billion revenues by 2025.
Player contracts may also be set for a shakeup in the coming years. While players are unlikely to be able to get much further towards fully guaranteed contracts, they may be able to get further funds dedicated towards aftercare for retired players and further research into CTE and its effects.
Another discussion may revolve around the current franchise and transition tag system, it can take up to another 2 years for players to reach free agency, further benefiting GM’s around the league and limiting the ability of players to get the payday they desire.
NFL powerbrokers are expected to want a change to an 18 game regular season- possibly by reducing the quantity of pre-season games to 2 from the current 4. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is believed to be a key proponent of the push for an extended regular season but the Players Association are unlikely to give ground on this issue without substantial concessions from the NFL.
These concessions will likely include expanded roster sizes. Currently, up to 1,184 players are released on cut off day, and while some are added to practice squads throughout the league, the majority are set free never to play a snap again. While that is an inevitable cost of the enormously competitive environment, the NFLPA will likely push for additional help for these players readjustment to a normal life.
Further international expansion is also certain to be on the agenda; with the prospect of a London based franchise under discussion. Even if there is no agreement for a franchise to move, there will be efforts to further grow the game in other markets, with China thought to be a particular focus going forward.
We may also see changes to the NFL’s substance abuse policy, with marijuana usage a possible avenue for the ground to be given from the NFL. It is certainly possible that marijuana will be taken off the list of drugs that players are tested for, especially given that it has been legalised in some states already.
Perhaps the biggest fight going forward may be on the role of NFL Commissioner himself. Currently, he has the unilateral ability to decide and impose punishments with very little oversight. This may have been shown most vividly during the deflategate saga that engulfed the Patriots and Tom Brady during 2015 and beyond. The case went all the way to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where it was determined that Goodell was acting within the parameters of his jurisdiction as determined by the previous CBA, the NFLPA will surely try to impose some level of oversight to the Commissioner’s power.
Whilst both sides will no doubt wish to come to an equitable agreement, and to ensure that there is no lockout, there is almost certainly some tough talks to be had and many hurdles to overcome to achieve this. The resolution of these talks should provide the foundation for the NFL juggernaut to continue growing over the coming decade and to further dominate the attention of its avid fanbase in the US and around the world