With a full year to go before the current deal was set to end, the NFL Players Association voted to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement Saturday night, which go a long way toward securing labor peace in the league for the next 11 seasons.
The vote was close with a 1,019 to 959 majority allowing the deal to pass. The deal begins immediately with the 2020 season and extends through 2030.
The immediate impact of the new deal will be seen in a number of ways, most notably the postseason. Two additional teams will qualify for the playoffs in 2020 with an extra wild card participant being selected from each conference. That means there will be seven teams for each side, meaning only the No. 1 seeds will receiver byes.
Starting in 2021, there will be an option for each team to play 17 regular-season games. Also, there will be increases in minimum salaries, performance-based pay and player revenue. As a result, the salary cap for 2020 has been set at $198.2 million.
"NFL players have voted to approve ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement by a vote tally of 1,019 to 959," the NFLPA said in a statement. "This result comes after a long and democratic process in accordance with our constitution. An independent auditor received submitted ballots through a secure electronic platform, then verified, tallied and certified the results."
The player vote came three weeks after the owners approved the new deal. Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement as well.
"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," the statement read. "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."
Despite the optimism over the new deal, the players were somewhat split. In the end it squeaked by with a margin of just 60 votes, a fact acknowledged but the NFLPA Executive Committee in a statement.
"We understand and know that players have been split on this deal, including members of our EC. "Going forward, it is our duty to lead, however we may feel as individuals, to bring our men together and to continue to represent the interests of our entire membership."
According to NFL.com, some of the financial implications for the players include an increase in player revenue, which is set at 47 percent in 2020 and then at least 48 percent in 2021 with the ability to increase the percentage to a 48.5 share through a media kicker that applies in any season the league plays 17 games.
Players who earn league minimums will get an increase in salary and there will be an increase in performance-based pay, beginning with an average 12 percent increase. The league estimates that as much as an additional $100 million will go to players immediately this season.
Two additional active spots will bring rosters to 55 men, while there will be a decrease in padded practices at training camp, down from 28 to 16. Padded practices will be limited to 2.5 hours, down from 3.
Retired players will also benefit from the new deal, as they will see an increase in benefits and boost to pensions.
Changes to the drug policy include a reduction in penalties for players who test positive for THC (eliminating suspensions solely based on positive tests), an abbreviated testing window (from four months to two weeks at the start of training camp) and a significant increase in the threshold for a positive test (nanogram limit rises from 35 to 150).
New NFLPA president and Cleveland center JC Tretter released the following statement on the vote:
"Our members have spoken and the CBA has been ratified. We pick up a greater share of revenues, make significant gains to minimum salaries and increase our post-career benefits. For players past, this deal reaches back in an unprecedented way to increase pensions, benefits and make resources available to them.
"We understand that not all deals are perfect, and we don't take the gains we wanted, but couldn't get, lightly. We now must unite and move forward as a union. The interest and passion on the issues that our members have voiced in the past several weeks needs to continue. Our job is never done and we all must work together as one team to build for a better future."
Now that labor peace is secured, teams now can focus on free agency, which is set to begin March 18 at 4 p.m. Potential free agents can begin negotiating with other teams today, which is the start of the so-called legal tampering period.