We are still waiting to find out if the full membership of the NFLPA will approve the proposed new collective bargaining agreement. It does look like the league is not going to settle for anything that does not include the 17-game season, which would drive a lot of other things, and that has become the main point of contention for the players. However it turns out, there seem to be several elements that are going to happen at one point or another. Although not all details are certain, key provisions are being reported. They are league wide, so of course they are relevant to the Dallas Cowboys. Here are some you might not have thought about - and the first one has costly implications for Dallas.
New contracts just got more expensive
Most players have contracts that will extend into the new CBA. To make the extended season palatable, the proposal from the NFL includes adding an extra game check for all those affected. To figure out how much that is for any player, you simply increase their base salary in a year by 6.25%. To use a simple example, Cowboys LT Tyron Smith has a $10 million base this year, so he would receive an extra $625,000 for the 17th game now that the NFL has backed off its idea of a $250,000 cap.
What you may not have thought about is that logically any new contracts would grow by roughly the same amount. They are going to be for that 17 games, so the players will demand to be paid proportionally more.
If you were upset at the amounts being bandied about for Dak Prescott, you are just going to be more agitated now.
Although the eventual per-year value of his contract is still hotly debated, there are a lot of reasons to think it is going to be in the vicinity of $35 million per year. Well, not anymore. Just using that 6.25%, now the cost is probably more in the $37 to $37.5 million range. Brace yourself. The same applies to anyone else the team re-signs, like Amari Cooper or Robert Quinn. The old projected contract values are now obsolete.
This would have an additional implication. The salary cap this year will have to be boosted by a proportional amount to keep teams from being put over the cap just by the adoption of a new CBA. It will be more or less a wash in the end, but will clearly impact future cap calculations.
Pay increases are in store for everyone beyond the extra game. The rookie minimum salary will be increased by $100,000, which should cover a car payment or two, and that will push all minimums up. This benefit applies to a large number of players in the league, and the NFL seems to be betting it will sway enough of the non-stars to vote yes to get the CBA done.
Get ready for more load management
Many of the higher-paid veterans are balking at the 17 game season, which comes with no additional bye week while dropping one preseason game. Getting through the current 16 game season is already difficult enough, and that extra game adds more injury risk, as well as just being exhausting. For a player who has little guaranteed money remaining on his contract, an injury could lead to being cut and losing out on millions in earnings.
The concern is not just for the players. Teams will have to figure out how to protect their investments. If it is a player that still has a lot of guaranteed money coming, or that will cause the team to incur significant dead money, their team will have to consider how to protect that investment.
We already see players who are held out of meaningless late season games. It has not become a significant problem, but the recent furor over load management in the NBA could point to some concerns the NFL may soon have. Tickets are very expensive, and it is understandable that purchasers would be upset if they got to the stadium only to find out the stars of the team are all sitting the game out. It is more likely to happen with the longer season for teams that are out of the hunt, as well as any that have their playoff position more or less locked up. The NFL claims it doesn’t want to add a second bye because it would lead to an inferior product to sell to the networks. The 17th game could do something quite similar, however.
There are a lot of unknown details, some of which will only be known when (and if) a new CBA is ratified. But others have emerged, and all will affect the game in varying degrees.
Expanding the playoffs
This one is a bit unique, because the league is signaling that they have the power to do this without getting the players’ agreement. Frankly, it is hard to imagine many of the latter objecting to an increased chance at making a run and getting an extra paycheck, albeit a small one. Expect this to happen no matter what else.
Reduction of training camp
Dropping a preseason game makes it logical to reduce practices in camp. What is a bit surprising is how big the reduction is, from 28 to 16. It is going to make it much harder for rookies and perhaps some free agents additions to absorb things, and with a new coaching staff, the Cowboys will face extra challenges. Combine that with one less preseason contest to evaluate players, and roster cut down is going to involve decisions made with a lot less data than in the past.
Increasing the roster
The regular season roster will increase by two to 55, with game day actives also growing from 46 to 48. This is an absolute necessity with the extra game, and the NFL may want to revisit a further increase after a couple of years experience with the expanded schedule.
It is something that really benefits everyone except maybe the cheaper owners, and mostly would only involve a couple more minimum salary players in any case. For players it has the obvious benefit of adding 64 more regular season jobs to the league. For teams, there are multiple advantages. First, it allows them to perhaps avoid cutting someone who could contribute. An obvious example for the Cowboys is defensive back Charvarius Ward, who was one of their last cuts in 2018. He went on to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs, and started all 19 games during their championship run, contributing two interceptions and a forced fumble along the way. With the secondary questions Dallas is facing this year and next, he would have been a good one to be able to keep.
The extra couple of bodies on game day have more than one advantage. First, that’s two more players who can be active and gaining some experience. The Cowboys would almost certainly have gotten Trysten Hill on the field more last season if this had already been in effect. It is also likely to be helpful for special teams since that is where these players can also make a meaningful contribution. And that in turn will free a couple of more valuable players from having to work on STs. Mostly, of course, it will help deal with the inevitable injuries that accumulate during the season.
The practice squad is growing as well
This is another carrot for the fringe players in the NFLPA. The increase is in stages, first to 12, then eventually to 14. And the pay is also to increase to $10,500 per week, with the additional week applying as well. That is getting to be pretty decent money for working out and improving your skills while trying to break through to the roster. It is another way to help teams retain and develop those young but marginal talents. For young hopefuls, it is another 128 jobs coming on line.
A big topic of discussion is the reported “relaxation” of the marijuana prohibition. That should lead to a significant drop in suspensions, assuming it is close to a full dropping of testing and penalizing for pot use. The Cowboys have multiple cases where this could have really changed careers, including the unicorn himself, Randy Gregory. (It may open the door for David Irving as well, but in either of their cases, let’s not tabulate any fetal chickens just yet.) It also has the potential of giving players a way to reduce the reliance on other pain management substances, such as opioids and the many negative side effects they entail.
And really hitting home for Dallas is that player discipline is going to be taken out of the hands of Roger Goodell and placed in the hands of a (supposedly) neutral arbitrator. We’ll just call this the Ezekiel Elliott clause, because of painful memories.
Money, money, money
It would be remiss to not mention the driving factor behind the entire push to get the new CBA done. That is the coming negotiations between the league and the broadcasters/webcasters over new rights. An extra regular season and two more playoff games are more opportunities to sell advertising, which makes the product all the more valuable. While the players have legitimate objections to the longer season, they too will benefit from the growth of both actual money paid out and the salary cap. The new CBA increases their share of revenues from 47% to 48% (which may cover the needed increases for the roster expansion), with a further increase to 48.5% later in the agreement.
It is all driven by the bottom line. Now we have to see if the NFL will succeed in getting it approved. If not, the specter of a lockout or even a strike looms, and none of us want to see that. But we shouldn’t blame the players for voicing legitimate concerns for their health, safety, job security, and incomes.