Basic NFL player contract could give NFL pandemic relief — if there’s no season at all

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Unlike the NBA’s labor deal, the NFL’s labor deal contains no force majeure clause. So how would the NFL try to avoid paying players if the 2020 season is curtailed or eliminated by the pandemic?

Or, to answer a question recently posed by our U.K. friend Tom Marshall a/k/a @aredzonauk, “In the event of a curtailed or abandoned season, does the new CBA offer any favour to either of the two sides, financially or otherwise?”

Per a league source, the NFL believes that if no games are played the players get nothing, whereas if even one game is played they get their full salaries. This comes from paragraph 6 of the NFL Player Contract, which explains that the obligation to pay a player’s base salary begins “with the first regular season game played by Club in each season.” While that wouldn’t apply to bonuses or other payments already made, it would allow teams to avoid the entirety of the base salaries for all NFL players.

So if, as the NFL’s argument would go, there is no first regular-season game, the obligation to pay player salaries never would arise.

The argument is becoming more and more academic as the season approaches. Intent to play all games, and in turn to pay full player salaries, the league and the union won’t be fighting over paychecks in 2020.

But if something happens to derail the entire 2020 season, the NFL has a plausible basis for slamming the door on paying players their salaries for the coming season.

Notwithstanding paragraph 6, it’s possible that teams will dump veteran salaries before the start of the 2020 season in order to reduce expenses this year and to create cap space that could be carried into 2021, in the event the salary cap falls. Indeed, the pandemic could make some highly-paid veterans vulnerable to being released outright, if teams become comfortable with younger and cheaper players who could step in and step up.