The ball remains on the tee. The question is whether the NFL Players Association will choose to kick it.
Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that the NFLPA will soon convene a meeting of its Executive Committee and its 32-member board of player representatives at an undisclosed location to vote on the current proposal from the league for a new 10-year labor deal. A Thursday meeting failed to result in a vote, due in part to hesitation from some player representatives to accept an extra game.
Mortensen’s report underscores the reality that, despite any public complaints from players like 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman (a member of the Executive Committee) regarding a 17-game season, the union has negotiated a Collective Bargaining Agreement premised on 17 games. And union leadership wouldn’t be presenting it to the Executive Committee for recommendation to the board of player representatives for a vote that could then move the proposed contract to a final up-or-down ballot by roughly 1,900 dues-paying members of the NFLPA.
As Mortensen explains it, players will “accept the one thing they hate, a 17-game season, in exchange for 10 or more things they want,” or they will reject 17 games and force further negotiations based on a 16-game season.
Earlier this week, Sherman chastised the media for not pointing out the league’s hypocrisy in promoting player health and safety while pushing for 17 (and eventually 18) games. But Sherman’s words, and the union’s actions, make it clear that the NFLPA has allowed the 17-game horse to escape the barn and to run around in the field, unrestrained.
In some respects, it may be too late to put the 17-game genie back in the bottle. For months, the NFL and NFLPA have hammered out a deal based on 17 games. If the union suddenly tries to do an about-face, the two sides could instantly be on pace for a 2021 work stoppage. Along the way, both sides could squander the opportunity to parlay labor peace into new billion-dollars broadcasting deals before the looming presidential election takes a bite out of ratings and an anticipated recession puts a crimp in budgets.
Still, a deal isn’t done until it’s done. If the Executive Committee refuses to recommend the deal to the board of player representatives, if the board fails to approve the deal by a 2/3rd supermajority, or if fewer than 50 percent plus one of the rank and file accept the proposal, it’s back to the drawing board (and maybe eventually to a lockout or a strike) for the league and the union.