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NFL, NFLPA reach deal governing Covid-19 impacts

(Photo by Chris DELMAS / AFP) (Photo by CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

National Football League training camps will open as scheduled this week after the league and NFL Players Association reached a comprehensive deal to govern the operational and financial impacts of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The agreement will eliminate all preseason games, as players intended, and provide players an extended acclimation period to account for the lack of in-person team training this spring due to the public health crisis. 

Players will have the ability to opt out of the season, and industry sources said players opting out will receive a stipend of $350,000 if they have a medical reason for withdrawal and are considered in a higher-risk medical category, and $150,000 if the opt-out is voluntary, though the latter amount will be considered a salary advance and taken from future pay. In either scenario, a player’s multiyear contract will pause.

The provisions make the NFL the only major US pro league to offer a stipend for voluntary withdrawals, which also carry a deadline of August 3. 

Prior negotiations last week also set the stage for daily testing for at least the first two weeks of training camp.

In the deal, the 2020 NFL salary cap of $198.2m will remain the same as before. The 2021 salary cap will drop no lower than $175m, stemming prior fears that the cap could plummet below $130m next year due to heavily impacted gate revenues for teams, and in turn, impact individual player compensation. 

Instead, adjustments from the 2022-2024 salary caps will be made to manage the impending financial impact of Covid-19. Players had proposed stretching the 2021 cap impact over an even longer period of time, but the final agreement ended at a three-season adjustment.

The salary cap issue had been one of the biggest hurdles in front of the league and union as they prepared for the upcoming 2020 season

“The NFL clubs and the NFL Players Association approved an agreement that broadly resolves all outstanding issues relating to the opening of training camps and start of the 2020 season. Training camps will begin as scheduled,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. We have worked collaboratively to develop a comprehensive set of protocols designed to minimize risk for fans, players, and club and league personnel. 

“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 [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], 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,” Goodell said.

The NFLPA’s Board of Representatives voted to approve the deal, representing a series of amendments to the existing collective bargaining agreement, by a 29-3 margin.

If the season is started but not completed because of further complications with the pandemic, players will be paid on a prorated basis, and further arrangements have been made for players to recoup guaranteed money in the event of a shortened season.

The league, like others around the world, is due to take a meaningful financial hit because of Covid-19 and local-market attendance that will be either at zero of curtailed attendance. But the recent annual report of the Green Bay Packers, the league’s only publicly owned team, showed how the NFL’s robust television revenue provides comparatively much more financial security, and that financial security in turn helped pave the way for the latest agreement with the union. 

The agreement also outlines a series of player behaviors, branded “High-Risk Covid-19 Conduct,” that will be prohibited. Banned activities include visiting nightclubs and bars, attending house parties with more than 15 people, going to indoor concerts and other similar entertainment events, attending pro sporting events other than their own NFL games, and going to indoor religious services with more than 25 per cent capacity. 

Penalties for violations will include fines, and if the activities lead to positive virus tests, loss of pay and potential voiding of contract guarantees.