The National Football League has a new path for the next 11 years, and no roadblocks in the way.
On Sunday morning, the NFL Players Association announced that its members had ratified the proposed new Collective Bargaining Agreement by a vote of its members. A simple majority was needed for approval and it passed by a count of 1,019 to 959. Nearly 80% of the NFLPA's members posted a vote. The NFL had already approved the proposal before sending it to the NFLPA for its vote.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement thanking both sides of the negotiating table for an effort that ensures labor peace through 2030, calling it a "transformative" agreement.
"We are pleased that the players have voted to ratify the proposed new CBA, which will provide substantial benefits to all current and retired players, increase jobs, ensure continued progress on player safety, and give our fans more and better football," said Goodell. "We appreciate the tireless efforts of the members of the Management Council Executive Committee and the NFLPA leadership, both of whom devoted nearly a year to detailed, good faith negotiations to reach this comprehensive, transformative agreement."
The agreement was reached just three days before the start of the new league year, which is scheduled to commence on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. ET. On Monday at noon ET, teams may begin contacting agents of players who are due to become free agents on Wednesday, assuming free agency is not postponed due to the national Coronavirus emergency.
The new CBA is indeed transformative as it paves the way for expansion of both the regular season and the playoffs. The postseason may be expanded to seven teams in each conference as soon as the upcoming season, and there is an option for a 17-game regular season as soon as 2021. The NFL last expanded its playoff field in 1990, going from five teams in each conference to six. The last time the regular season was lengthened was in 1978, when two games were added to move from 14 games to 16.
The players' share of league revenue increases in the new CBA, starting at 47% in 2020 and increasing to 48% in 2021. If the league expands to a 17-game season, that player percentage will increase to 48.5%. The minimum salaries will also increase substantially, as will performance-based pay.
There will also be more jobs to go around, beginning with an expansion of the practice squad from 10 to 12 players in 2020, and to 14 spots in 2022. Active spots on game day will increase from 46 to 48. The active roster will remain at 53, but teams can promote from the practice squad up to 55 players for a game, with the promoted players then reverting back to the practice squad.
Other notable changes in the new CBA included an increase in benefits and pension amounts for retired players, alterations to the testing process and suspensions for players who test positive for THC and a decrease in padded practices during training camp from 28 to 16.
There is also one immediate impact of the new CBA being ratified on the cusp of free agency. Had no new deal been put in place, the league would have played the 2020 season in the final year of the CBA put in place in 2011. That agreement allowed for teams to use both a franchise and a transition tag on potential free agents this year. The new CBA restores the usual tag rules, which means teams once again can use only one of those two potential tags.