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Set of new meetings signal potential progress in NFL labor talks

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

The prospect of the National Football League and the NFL Players Association reaching a new labor deal sooner than later is gaining new momentum after NFL owners hurriedly scheduled a meeting for February 20 in New York to discuss the league’s ongoing talks with the union. Leaders from the players’ union, meanwhile, will have their own conference call the following day to also discuss the labor negotiations. 

The current 10-year deal, struck in 2011, expires after the 2020 season. But the NFL has been eager to reach a new agreement prior to the start of the new league year and free agency on March 18, in part to immediate enjoy the benefits of several measures it has been seeking.

Among the owners’ wishes in a new deal: an expanded regular season that would add a 17th game for each club, and a reformatted and expanded playoff system that would also crucially create additional postseason inventory for the league heading into the next media rights cycle.

The union, meanwhile, is seeking salary and benefit improvements, among other measures. But the expanded regular season represents the most dramatic flashpoint, with several prominent union figures openly decrying the proposal amid health and safety concerns.

It’s expected that much of the labor talks will rest on the fulcrum of the 17th game, how badly the league wants to get it, and what the union can gain in exchange if they were to agree to it, such an increased percentage of overall revenue, roster expansions, or reductions to the preseason schedule. And even if there is ultimately agreement on the concept of a 17th game, there could still be disagreement as to when to start implementing the new schedule. 

The NFL’s push to expand the playoffs, in part to help extract strong increases for the next set of media rights contracts, mirrors a strategy now being contemplated by Major League Baseball.

The latest set of meetings among each side of the negotiating table extends a continuing drumbeat of activity on the NFL labor front. The NFLPA’s executive committee also met earlier this month in Los Angeles to discuss the ongoing negotiations.

The latest owners meeting was originally on the league’s calendar, as the next gathering was not slated to be until late next month in Florida.