NFL-NFLPA dynamic hovers over potential playoff expansion

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It’s clear the NFL wants to expand the playoffs.  It’s so clear the NFL wants to expand the playoffs that it will now be even harder for the NFL to secure an agreement from the NFLPA to expand the playoffs.

Even though new NFLPA president Eric Winston has said that he supports growing the field from 12 teams to 14, the NFLPA eventually has to sign off on any proposal to expand the playoffs.  Officially, the union has been coy, pointing out repeatedly that no proposal has been made.

For Commissioner Roger Goodell, the challenge comes from persuading at least 24 owners to vote for playoff expansion without coming off as overly eager to the union.  At this point, the league seems to want to expand the playoffs more than the players want to expand the playoffs, which means that the players will want some other concession (or two . . . or more) in exchange for an agreement to expand the playoffs.

When the two sides met earlier this month, with the league fully intending to raise the issue, the topic never came up.  Which at a minimum means that the league realizes that the players may not be inclined to automatically endorse expanding the postseason field.

In theory, it should be enough for the players to see significant revenues flow into the pot from which the salary cap is crafted.  But collective bargaining doesn’t happen in theory.  It happens in a room where guys sit back with their arms folded, waiting for someone to blink on that last key point that is keeping the deal from being done and acting like they don’t care if the deal never gets done.

The problem for the NFL is that there hasn’t been much blinking by either side since August 2011.  While the two sides have been able to work out an agreement on the salary cap each year (because they have to), the three-year-old agreement to reach an agreement on HGH testing remains stalled over one final point regarding the appeal process for discipline imposed by the Commissioner for a violation of the steroids policy unrelated to a positive HGH test.

And so unless the league is willing to give the union something else for agreeing to expanded playoffs — something other than the reduced preseason that the league also clearly wants — expanded playoffs may not be happening any time soon.

In the end, the league may have no choice but to exercise its unilateral right to cut the preseason by as much as two weeks, hopeful that the corresponding drop in total revenue would motivate the players to agree to something/anything that would re-grow the pie.

Even then, the players could still afford to be coy.  Stalled growth of the cap resulting from abandoned preseason games will affect the players on a per-person basis far less dramatically than it will affect the teams, which are generating huge profits from the the meaningless games of August.

So when the owners talk next month about expanded playoffs, a big part of the conversation needs to be coming up with a strategy for getting the players to agree, too.  Even if that means giving the players something else that the owners may not want to surrender.

9 responses to “NFL-NFLPA dynamic hovers over potential playoff expansion

  1. Why not have every team in the playoffs if you’re just going to keep adding them any ways? Why even have a regular season?

    Playoffs should be hard to obtain. That’s one of the beauties of the NFL system now. Don’t water it down!

  2. I saw the same reaction from fans when the league expanded the playoff field in 1990.

    Don’t be so resistant to change.Sometimes it is for the better.

  3. The NFL is doing everything in its power to get the Maras and the Rooneys in the playoffs every year.

  4. Is anybody watching the first round of 7 game series in the NBA or NHL playoffs?

    Didn’t think so.

    Please keep it as is.

  5. The issue of the post is what would the players demand vs accept for the expanded playoffs.
    Is is something benign like 1) reduce pre-season; 2) increase in pay for OTA (currently $175/day)
    Is it something quasi meaningful to the players, but mostly cost neutral to the owners like: 1) Increase active game day roster to 49 (or 53) “to reduce injuries”; 2) Modify rules for practice squad and permitted bonus structure on 1 yr veteran minimum contracts.
    Or do the players hold this issue ransom for some things it really really wants like some of these: 1) Increase draft to 8 rounds and eliminate compensatory picks for net free agents lost (Andrew Brandt did a great article 1-2 years ago about how this practice dramatically hampers salaries); 2) Modify player fines and practice (2 people including 1 from PA must agree to the fine; fines are paid out to the players not to NFL charities); 3) Get rid of the Transition Tag; 4) Make 5th year option fully guaranteed not just guaranteed for injury when signed and make that count as the 1st “franchise”.

  6. There’s nothing better about watching bad football teams in the postseason. We’ve had a couple 9-7 teams and one 10-6 team win Super Bowls in recent years. Haven’t we suffered enough?
    Bring back the days of fewer games, fewer teams and better football.

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