NFL Players, do not fall for the NFL’s CBA trick

NFL (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
NFL (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

As the NFLPA approaches their election on the NFL’s proposed CBA, we dive in and explain why the players should reject the agreement.

This is a strange time to write about sports. Sports, schools, and other public events are being canceled around the world as individuals and organizations hopefully limit the harm of COVID-19.

As a child of two parents over the age of 60 with autoimmune conditions and lung conditions, please do what you can to limit your exposure and the exposure of others amidst the crisis. The sooner we all work together, the sooner we can get back to doing the things we enjoy most.

For the last few years, the impending collective bargaining agreement (CBA) has hung over the league.

Many in and around the league were nearly certain that the CBA — set to expire after the 2020 season — would entail a nasty dispute between the league and the NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA) that very well could lead to a work stoppage.

Last month though, the league made the bold decision to propose a new deal to the players a season before the CBA expired. It was not an extension of the status quo either. Instead, the league proposed a deal that would be the largest league overhaul in decades.

The league proposed a 17-game regular season, which garnered the bulk of media coverage, but included a number of changes to the league’s drug policy, roster rules, minimum salaries, and, most importantly for players, an increase in the players share of league revenues.

A number of prominent players, including Richard Sherman and J.J. Watt, publically disparaged the proposal and it seemed like the proposal might be dead in the water. The player’s executive committee, which takes the largest role in CBA negotiations, recommended rejecting the league’s proposal.

However, the committee did so with just a 6-5 vote against support. While one member would change his vote in the following days (making it 7-4), it was clear that the players were split.

As time passes and we approach the day players will vote (March 14th), the deal appears to be gaining momentum. This is not by accident.

The NFL‘s negotiators designed a deal with several incentives for the “nameless” players. For those without sponsorship deals and often receive just minimum salary contracts, the proposed CBA would have immediate benefits.

Yes, a 17th game comes with the added risk of injury and long-term health risk, but for the average player (whose career last’s about 3.3 years) whose salary will be heavily tied to the minimum salary, the new deal could increase their career earnings by 20-40 percent.

Playing an extra three games is probably worth it for them.

However, just because the deal may improve some players’ circumstances does not inherently make it a good deal for the players. The league benefits more than anyone from a longer season and the reality is the incentives they added fall far short of what the players should require.

Negotiations are about leverage and the players have it right now.

Those advocating the NFLPA approve the CBA are focusing on the potential increase in the player’s share of revenues of 1.5 percent (from 47 to 48.5 percent).

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Of course, the increase won’t kick in until the 2021 season and unless certain thresholds of media revenue are reached the share will only increase to 48 percent.

Granted, even a marginal increase in players’ share would be a huge win — players across pro sports have received declining shares of revenue in the 21st century. But, that’s part of the NFL’s sleight of hand.

Pro leagues have done fantastic jobs leveraging their players into smaller shares of revenues during the Great Recession, increased benefits, and less mandated practice time.

CBA’s tend to work in cycles where players sacrifice revenues for other benefits (or the security of the league) before reacting to increasing ownership and league profits by striking and trying to leverage an increase in revenue share once again.

What makes the NFL’s proposal so cunning is momentum has been building for the players to get a larger share of revenues. By making this preemptive proposal, however, the NFL has shifted the discussion.

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They’ve now attached the idea of increased revenue share with a longer season. The reality is players were in a strong position to advocate for a 1-2 percent increase in revenue shares under the current framework.

Frankly, a 17 or 18-game season would have been a framework for a 50-50 split or maybe even a deal that would give players the majority of revenues.

Instead, players seemed poised to give up one of their largest bargaining chips (an expanded regular season) for a benefit they probably could have leveraged anyway.

Saints punter Thomas Morstead took to Twitter as the COVID-19 (a.k.a coronavirus) pandemic caused delays and cancellations around pro sports in favor of the proposal.

Morstead noted the “union is in a position to secure economic certainty in a very uncertain climate,” which is true, but ignores some realities of the current negotiations.

The new deal would not impact the upcoming season at all. In fact, the old deal will not expire until the end of the upcoming season.

While COVID-19 could very easily delay the start of the NFL offseason and regular season, no league is better positioned in the calendar to be as minimally affected by the outbreak as possible.

For some reason, members of the NFLPA seems committed to undermining its own leverage at every turn. Even if you think this deal is adequate, why publicize those positions? Why not advocate a counter with marginal changes?

Notice how unified ownership was in proposing the deal.

There have since been some murmurs and source reports that some owners hope the players reject the deal so they can advocate for an 18-game regular season, but that could just as easily be leveraged posturing from ownership than actual opinion.

Most importantly, no owners have publically undermined the proposal.

If the players stand united and reject the NFL’s proposal on March 14th, they will be in a position to advocate for a 1 percent increase in revenue share with no changes to the regular season or a potential 2-2.5 percent increase in revenue share for the 17th game.

Would ownership just keel over and agree? Of course not. It would be a long fight that ownership would try to win as well.

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But, the players will never be able to improve their standing in the league if they negotiate from a position of fear. The reality is if players united, they would have the leverage to create the framework for the next CBA that they want.

Hopefully, as the players vote, they realize the power is there’s if they grab it.