NFL, players agree on 2020 season plans, weathering COVID-19 financial hit

As always in the NFL, deadlines spur deals.

With full squad training camps set to open Tuesday, team owners and players found the middle ground to get the 2020 season locked in.

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The executive committee of the NFL Players Association endorsed the latest proposal that has been hammered out between franchise owners and players, the union said in a statement Friday afternoon. The union’s 32 player representatives approved the proposal by a 29-3 vote later Friday, locking in solutions to a multitude of issues, including how the two sides will split the overall revenue losses from the 2020 season and what players would be paid if the schedule was halted or trimmed due to coronavirus pandemic conditions.

“We have worked collaboratively to develop a comprehensive set of protocols designed to minimize risk for fans, players and club and league personnel,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “These plans have been guided by the medical directors of the NFL and the NFLPA and have been reviewed and endorsed by independent medical and public health experts, including the CDC, and many state and local public health officials. The season will undoubtedly present new and additional challenges, but we are committed to playing a safe and complete 2020 season, culminating with the Super Bowl.”

The deal is essentially a one-year collective bargaining agreement between the two sides, augmenting language and financial splits to weather COVID-19’s unprecedented impact.

The union put out a statement earlier Friday urging its membership stamp the new pact: “The NFLPA Executive Committee voted unanimously to recommend the proposed changes to the CBA.

A source told Yahoo Sports the most vital point in the deal that ultimately brought the two sides together was the team owners and players agreeing that the 2020 salary cap of $198.2 million would remain in place, and that 2020 revenue losses could be spread between the 2021-2024 seasons. The source said a key part of the agreement was assuring the 2021 salary cap could draw back no lower than $175 million, with any other cumulative losses from 2020 being spread evenly from 2022-2024.

The four-year spread could be cushioned further by new television deals that will help raise revenues next season, and the losses being limited to 2024 all but ensures a sizable cap jump in 2025 as shortfalls come off the books.

All of that is significant, given that if the two sides were unable to spread losses out, the full weight of the revenue hit would have accumulated into 2021, with the union projecting as much as a $70 million per team cap reduction that would have devastated many rosters across the league. Two other key details that were also worked out, per a source with knowledge of the negotiations:

  • If the league suffers a shortened season, players will be paid for only the portion of the season that was played. However, there will be a provision that dedicates future revenue to banking and paying any lost wages that were fully guaranteed. But the payments will come at a later date and still out of the league’s total revenues. Essentially, franchise owners have agreed to pay all of the guaranteed money due in 2020, with the players’ blessing that any guaranteed monies that aren’t paid out this year will be awarded later. This will help mitigate the 2020 revenue hit for team owners while satisfying the current collective bargaining language that states players get all of their guaranteed salaries for 2020 once the regular season begins.

  • The practice schedules will be augmented to include a balance of testing, strength and conditioning and non-padded practices, with fully padded practices not allowed until the 21st day of camp. This satisfies the three-week acclimation period that players insisted upon before fully padded practices. There will also be no more than 14 days of padded practice between the 21st day of training camp and the start of the regular season.

  • Players will be given until Aug. 3 to opt out of next season due to COVID-19 concerns. For those who opt out, the decision will be considered final and they will not be allowed to return during the 2020 campaign. However, the players will still receive some compensation. Those who present preexisting conditions will receive $350,000 and have 2020 still count toward their accrued season totals in the pension plan. Those who opt out for reasons other than a preexisting medical condition will be in line to receive $150,000, but will not get an accrued season toward the pension plan. There is an additional provision allowing players to opt out during the season in the event of a COVID-related illness within their immediate family or someone in their care.

  • Following the totality of cutdowns to a 53-man roster, if the NFL season is still canceled prior to the regular-season kickoff, players could be compensated with a $300,000 “final roster” stipend for the season. If the season is canceled prior to the final cutdown, players rostered on an NFL team the prior season could receive a $250,000 stipend.

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