NFL owners upping ante with CBA proposal


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Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Whether or not the NFL Player's Association accepts the CBA proposal put forth by the league's owners on Thursday remains to be seen.

But make no mistake, the owners seem pretty intent on putting a proposal in front of the players that has plenty of concessions.

More than likely, things will come down to money. But considering the last CBA was accomplished by a lockout of the players in 2011, this is a pretty big step forward.

There are a lot of things in this deal the players will like. And there are certainly some things they won't.

But, as Steelers player rep Ramon Foster told me during the season, "Both sides should walk away from a deal feeling grimy, like they gave up too much."

The focus for many on this deal is with the possibility of the league adding a 17th game to the schedule. But if the league does go to a 17-game regular season, the revenue for players would increase from 48 percent of the pie to 48.5 percent. That half a percentage point is significant when we're talking about a billion-dollar industry.

Also of significant note on the topic of money, the owners have included a clause that would allow the players to tap into any future money the NFL makes from gambling. That is something that also could be a significant amount considering where that appears to be headed.

Gambling money, when and if (when) the league taps into that new revenue source would be added directly to the players' take of the pie as it would be included in all league revenue.

That's a significant allowance by the owners.

Minimum salaries also would be increased across the board, for rookies, veterans and even practice squad players.

Most notably, the NFL's salary floor for teams, which allows some teams to spend far less than their fellow teams from 89 to 90 percent. And unlike now, where it is averaged out over a four-year period, allowing teams such as the Bengals to habitually spend far below the cap, it would be averaged over 3, 3 and 4 years over the 10-year agreement.

In terms of other issues, there are a lot of other things the players will like, such adding a neutral decision maker to disciplinary issues, taking that out of the hands of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. That was a big sticking point for the Steelers on the last CBA, causing them to vote no as a group on it.

There also would be a reduction in the fines charged for on-field offenses while also basically eliminating suspensions for testing positive for marijuana. Players would still be tested, but the threshold for a positive test would be raised considerably, while the number of players and the time frame in which they can be tested would both be reduced.

Again, this is significant for the union, which has long felt that suspending a player for testing positive for marijuana was Draconian.

The training also would be affected. Currently, teams have a two-day acclimation period when they start training camp before they can have a full padded practice. Under this offer, that would be increased to five days of acclimation.

In addition, teams would be limited to 2.5 hours of padded, full-speed practice with a limit of 16 days in pads. They could have more than three consecutive days for three out of the five weeks and no more than tw0 consecutive days for the other two weeks.

Other concessions are made for retirement and health plans for both current and former players, while it's also interesting to note the owners added clauses that would mandate improvements for visiting teams locker rooms, establish standards for rehabilitation facilities, training rooms and equipment for each club and develop improved safety metrics for playing surfaces.

Rosters also would be increased, with active rosters moving to 55 players, with one of those spots designated for an additional offensive lineman. Practice squads also would increase by two players.

It's also noteworthy, especially for the Steelers, that first-round draft picks who have their fifth-year option picked up would have their contracts fully guaranteed not just for the fifth season, as currently happens, but for the fourth season, as well. The decision to pick up a player's fifth-year option is made in the spring before his fourth season.

That would mean when the Steelers pick up T.J. Watt's fifth-year option this spring, his remaining contract would become fully guaranteed.

In addition, the league would do away with the current compensation plan for those fifth-year options. Currently, they are slotted based on where the player was drafted. The league would instead adopt a performance-based formula.

In the case of Watt, that should mean significantly more money. The same goes for Minkah Fitzpatrick, on whom the Steelers will hold a fifth-year option in 2022.

But everything will come down to whether or not the players are ready to accept a 17-game schedule. If that happens, the preseason would be trimmed from four games to three.

Teams also would be encouraged to hold joint practices instead of that fourth preseason game, though the joint practices would be limited to four.

It's an interesting proposal. And while many former players and even some current ones have been outspoken against it, the difficult thing for the NFLPA is that there are a lot of voices in each locker room. Those voices also are all at different points in their respective careers.

For young players just hoping to have an average NFL career -- three or so years -- a lot of the financial issues are going to more than make up for the additional game.

For established veterans in the midst of their career, they might not like it, but they are in the minority in most locker rooms. And veterans at the end of their career might look at it as one last chance at a pay day before retirement.

As for expanding the playoffs, there's nothing in the new CBA about doing that. The reason is that the owners don't need the permission of the NFLPA to do so. So expect that one way or the other moving forward.

That also will increase the revenue earned by the league across the board.

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