Momentum is growing within ownership, as well as some corridors of the NFLPA, for a new collective bargaining agreement including a 17-game season, with the league preparing to formally present its proposal to players after the regular season, according to league sources.
The NFL has spent years honing the revised schedule and logistics, and has made overtures to high-ranking union officials thus far, but player representatives will become more formally involved in the process as their seasons end. There is an expectation for serious negotiations to take place throughout January, with a strong possibility of a new deal being struck around the time of the Super Bowl, the sources said.
This process has moved quietly at a swift and amicable pace since early 2019, as reported first by CBS Sports back at the February combine, with a goal of getting a new deal done before the start of the 2021 season. Sources said all of that remains on course, with the NFL showing a willingness to bend significantly on issues like the marijuana policy and commissioner’s powers over off-field investigations, as reported at that time, and there has been a compelling argument made as well for the expanded season.
The proposal includes Week 1 still beginning after Labor Day, and the Super Bowl concluding the final Sunday of February (which could be bad news for The Oscars). It would allow the NFL to have playoff games on air throughout the month of February — critical sweeps weeks for its broadcast partners — and would include two byes for each team.
The additional game for each club would be played out-of-market, the sources said, with a heavy emphasis on key international locales like the United Kingdom (London and Ireland, in particular), Germany, Mexico and Brazil. It also opens the possibility of a full eight-game regular season schedule of games in London – something commissioner Roger Goodell is very supportive of — with fans there able to buy a “season ticket,” which would include at least two Jaguars games.
The NFL has also talked internally about playing games in other cities in the U.S. which do not have pro teams, with some buzz about playing a game at Notre Dame or Alabama, as well as Hawaii and cities in Canada. It is viewed as a unique and profound way to grow the game globally and extend the reach of sales, merchandising and broadcast rights around the globe, with there only so much more room for growth within America.
The additional international games would also allow the NFL to create a new broadcast package that would be aimed toward streaming/digital without disrupting or taking away from the current packages of Monday night, Thursday night and the AFC/NFC package. Many owners believe the additional package could bring in $1 billion or more per season. (Those streaming games would also be available to in-market fans of the participating teams on over-the-air broadcasts.) Furthermore, the league proposal would support an additional wild-card playoff game in each conference, but not an additional round or weekend, which also could be spun off as an additional broadcast package.
The preseason would be truncated to two games, but there is also strong support for each team participating in one scrimmage with another NFL team that would be officiated by NFL crews and could be held at NFL stadiums. Some league sources believe those scrimmages could end up being held for free to expose the game to young fans and segments of the market who may not be able to afford regular-season tickets.
The league would expand rosters to compensate for the two additional weeks of the regular season, sources said, and also lower the accrued-seasons threshold for players to qualify for pensions. The gross revenues would clearly increase substantially, though there is always a debate over what percent of those dollars go towards players and the salary cap.
It remains to be seen how receptive players will be to this proposal. They will become increasingly involved by the week as their years end after the regular season and through each playoff round. The tenor of the talks thus far have been cordial, but tensions tend to be highest when the owners and players are in the negotiating room together hashing things out.
The fact that they have come this far, with the current CBA not set to expire until 2021, has led to enthusiasm that something could get done early in 2020. The hardest work is still to come, but there is also significant common ground and give-and-take between the sides already.