The NFL Players Association made a counter-offer to the league in its negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement on Tuesday, and the most newsworthy part of this offer was that it accepted the reality of an 18-game season. This is big news, because it basically guarantees more football going forward. If the players are willing to accept two more regular-season games in exchange for other concessions, then there’s no doubt that the two sides can agree on the hows and whys of making that happen.
The NFLPA’s conditions for an 18-game schedule, according to ESPN’s account of the latest proposal, include:
• Voluntary offseason workouts would be reduced from the current 14 weeks to five weeks or 20 days (four days a week, four-hour maximum per day).
• Significantly reduced contact between players during training camp with four practices a week consisting of helmetless and padless periods.
• Two in-season bye weeks.
• Expanded rosters from the current 53 to 56 or 57, in addition to practice squads.
• Increased pro-rated salaries for players under contract.
• Reduction of the amount of games players need to become vested to qualify for post-career health care and pension benefits.
(Note: Italicized language from the article linked above.)
We talked about the overcrowded NFL offseason in May and offered a plan to fix it, and that seems to be one place the NFLPA is focusing in this offer. Less practice time in the offseason and limited practices in pads during training camp will help the physical wear and tear.
But the bigger issues the NFLPA is going for in this issue are the bottom three bullet points – more roster spots (i.e. more jobs); increased pro-rated salaries; and quicker vesting into the retirement program. These are all ideas that will really benefit the rank and file of the league. Right now, players have to be on rosters for four years to be vested, and that’s a tick longer than the average NFL career. Vesting after two or three years will allow many more players retirement benefits. And if roster sizes also increase, these vesting options will be easier to attain.
Who knows if the NFL will go for this offer. The players are certainly asking for a lot. But they aren’t closed to the idea of 18 games, which means you can basically book that possibility becoming a reality. That’s the headline here.