In the early Fall of 2018, before the start of the 99th season of the National Football League (NFL), the sports world expected a lockout looming on the horizon in 2021.  The currently governing Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) became effective 2011 and is set to expire after the 2020 season.  If, during that offseason, those negotiations failed and an impasse resulted, the outcome would be a lockout, and a potentially delayed 2021 season.

This lockout seemed to be all-but-certain considering the tumultuous relationship between NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) Executive Director DeMaurice Smith.  Goodell, as Commissioner, represents the interests of the club owners. Smith, who represents the players, believes those owners are greedy and the NFL, through Goodell, had lied.  To any outsider looking in, the atmosphere did not seem remotely suitable for successful negotiations of an imminently expiring CBA.

Just a few months later, however, things are looking up between the two parties, and there are reasons to be more optimistic about the parties’ discourse.  While the world may not be able to expect only smooth sailing for negotiations in the near future, the prospect of a lockout may not be as much of a reality as everyone thought.

Here are a few provisions and realities the sports world could expect to see from the impending CBA negotiations.

(1.) Money talk.  At the forefront of most every negotiation is money, this being no different.  It can be expected that the NFLPA will want a bigger share of the NFL’s $14B media revenues, possibly something more aligned with what they had under the 2006 CBA that looked more like a 50/50 split.  Additionally, the NFLPA can also be expected to seek out an improved wage scale for rookies.  Because rookie contracts are fairly standard and cannot be readily negotiated on a case-by-case basis, it is in both parties’ interests to ascertain that they are willing to accept the deal that is struck for whatever term this CBA will be for.

(2.) Timing. There is reason to believe that the new CBA deal could be struck sooner rather than later.  There are incentives on both sides to make the process as constructive, amicable, and speedy as possible.  For example, the current CBA provides particular, and different, contract rules for the “Final League Year” which would be 2019–2020.  In efforts to avoid these provisions being triggered, the players will want to act quickly.  On the NFL side, some current, media deals are expiring in 2022. The ability to enter negotiations with the media providers holding a solid and long-term CBA when renewal time comes would be beneficial.  As such, this timeline could decrease the probability of a lockup drastically by starting negotiations sooner.

(3.) Substance Abuse.  With many NFL athletes living in states where recreational marijuana has been legalized, it can be expected that the current inclusion of marijuana on customary drug testing will be changed.

(4.) Season Duration.  It has been proposed that the regular NFL season should include eighteen games instead of the current sixteen.  Of course, this means much more pressure on coaches, players, and staff, with no increased income in their already agreed upon and contractually provided for salaries.  Whether that increase will be realized will be interesting to see.

(5.) Health.  Considering the post-concussion settlement timing of this CBA, player health is sure to be a point of discussion as well. The NFL has sought, and continues to seek, improvements in equipment and treatment, and has also begun to prohibit player use of equipment that fails to meet their standards. In the next decade or so, that will likely continue, and the NFL may want language that gives them the latitude to make further changes on their player health and safety. From a player perspective, they may seek “[e]xpansion of post-career health care,” as well.

These issues are by no means everything that will be covered, but whatever ends up happening, it seems clear that major changes will be coming to the NFL.

Bailey Vincent



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