Mar 16, 2020 - Sports

NFL players' union approves new labor agreement with 17-game season

Illustration of a black board

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

After months of negotiations, a narrow majority of players voted to approve a new 10-year labor deal that will shape the NFL over the next decade.

Why it matters: The new collective bargaining agreement will allow the NFL to expand its regular season from 16 to 17 games as early as 2021 and expand the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams starting this season.

  • It also includes an increase in revenue share for the players (up from 47% to 48%), expanded rosters and practice squads, fewer padded practices in training camp (down from 28 to 16) and no suspensions for marijuana.
  • Minimum salaries will increase by 20%, which is important because ~60% of NFL players are on minimum deals.
  • The final tally on the vote: 1,019 voted "yes" (51.5%), 959 voted "no" (48.5%).

The backdrop: When the current CBA was signed in 2011, it included a new rookie wage scale that saw the No. 1 pick go from signing for $78 million in 2010 (Sam Bradford) to $22 million one year later (Cam Newton).

  • Those rules fundamentally changed how NFL teams built their rosters and, in the nine years since, impact players on cheap rookie deals have become the ideal roster-building piece.

As we enter the 2020s, the "fundamental change" seems likely to occur on the player health and durability front, as teams adjust to (a) fewer practices and (b) more games.

  • Worth noting: We could see a 17-game season as soon as 2021, but "many think 2022 is the soonest it could happen," per ESPN's Dan Graziano, citing the lack of substantive discussions about how it will actually work (i.e. which team gets the extra home game and whether there will be more bye weeks).

What to watch: While there's still a chance that the start of the 2020 league year will be postponed due to the coronavirus, it remains scheduled to begin at 4pm ET on Wednesday, with the "legal tampering" window set to open at noon today.

Go deeper: NFL playoffs could expand to 14 teams under new labor agreement

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