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NFL owners approve terms of new labor deal

National Football League team owners on February 20 in New York “voted to accept the negotiated terms on the principles of a new collective bargaining agreement” with the NFL Players Association, putting the prospects of a new labor deal closer than ever.

Details from that prospective agreement have not been disclosed. But the strong show of support toward a new agreement by the owners now places the ball squarely in the union’s hands. The NFLPA’s executive leadership and 32 team representatives are slated to hold a conference call on February 21 to discuss the potential deal.

If two-thirds of those player representatives approve the proposed deal, it would go to the full union membership for ratification, with a simple majority there required.

“Following more than ten months of intensive and thorough negotiations, the NFL Players and clubs have jointly developed a comprehensive set of new and revised terms that will transform the future of the game, provide for players – past, present, and future – both on and off the field, and ensure that the NFL’s second century is even better and more exciting for the fans,” the league said in a statement. 

There has been no additional league executive or team owner discussion publicly about the vote, as the NFL also said in statement, “out of respect for the process and our partners at the NFLPA, we will have no further comment at this time.”

After the NFL owners’ vote, outgoing NFLPA president Eric Winston tweeted, “There has been a flood of information on the potential of a new CBA. To our players: your player leadership has been working tirelessly. This is a business deal and no deal is finalized until the players vote.”

Despite that level of diplomacy, there were others among the union leadership following the vote decrying the proposed terms, how they were being framed publicly, and pushing back on suggestions that players would be needlessly contrarian if they were to vote down the proposed deal.

San Diego Chargers tackle Russell Okung, who is seeking the role Winston now inhabits and already is on the union’s executive committee, tweeted, “Roger Goodell has the NFL media working double time right now,” referring to the league commissioner.

NFL owners this week were hurriedly called to New York to discuss the measure and ultimately take the vote, and there is plenty of urgency and eagerness on their side to strike a new deal to succeed the one expiring after the 2020 season, particularly before the March 18 start of the new league year.

The league has been actively seeking to expand both the regular season, by adding a 17th game for each team, as well as the size of the postseason field of teams. Both measures would provide crucial tools to drive new revenue in the NFL’s next media rights cycle and give broadcasters more high-profile inventory. 

Part of that league interest in moving quickly on the next media cycle is politically driven. With the next US presidential election set to occur in November, it is not known who will occupy the Oval Office, and what that might mean to league ratings or the overall economy. But the league still does have the advantage of its games being the most popular programming in all of American television, regardless of genre.

Other measures expected to be in the new labor deal, if ratified, include a revised revenue split between owners and players, increased roster spots for each club, and reworked pension provisions.

Numerous players and union leaders, however, have been decidedly downbeat on the notion of adding that 17th game due to health and safety concerns. Thus, it will be telling to see what the players gain in return for the expansion to the regular season.

Okung continued on that theme in a series of tweets, saying there are still fundamental questions around the safety of the sport that need to be addressed.

“We’re talking about a system that incentivizes coaches to ask players to continue playing, even after they display concussion symptoms, which leads to post-game seizures and long-term irreparable damage,” Okung tweeted.

The NFL team owners while in New York also voted to protect themselves should the union not to proceed now with a new labor agreement. Owners also agreed to move forward in the 2020 season under the provisions of the current labor deal if the NFLPA does not agree to the negotiated terms part of the latest vote by management. With team preparations for the NFL Draft beginning in earnest next week, including the annual scouting combine, the league needs to have clarity on some type of economic system for the upcoming season. 

The league has been actively exploring for five years expanding its playoffs from 12 total teams to 14, with seven qualifiers in each conference. Major League Baseball is also now pursuing a similar expansion to its postseason.