NFL negotiates with NFLPA on pandemic protocols, even if NFL doesn’t believe it has to

Getty Images

The NFL Players Association agreed to the current 11-season labor deal during the pandemic. So why are the NFL and NFLPA currently engaged in, essentially, the negotiation of a new labor deal for the 2020 season, at least as it relates to dealing with the pandemic?

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the league doesn’t believe that it has an obligation to negotiate with players over the protocols applicable to training camp and the regular season given the current public-health crisis. The league is doing it, however, in order to be a good partner to the players, and for obvious P.R. reasons. If the league issued rules and regulations for training camp, the preseason, and the regular season without consulting with the players, the players could revolt and the fans and media could support the players if they have no real voice when it comes to their safety and security in a season that promises to be unlike any other.

Still, the league could decide to play hardball on any of the various issues the union has raised, from playing no preseason games to having no mandatory hotel stays during camp to having no 11-on-11 on-field activities to having no meetings in the team facilities to limiting the number of player in the facility at any time to 20 for the first three weeks of camp to everything else the players have requested. Setting aside the question of whether some of those requests are simply intended to give the union points on which to concede, if the league decides on any given point to draw a line in the sand, there’s nothing the union can really do about it.

A so-called wildcat strike would be illegal, absent clear proof that the NFL’s proposed rules amount to the failure to provide a safe workplace. It would be a huge gamble for the players to walk off the job and roll the dice that federal courts currently skewing toward business interests would agree with them, especially since plenty of the players wouldn’t walk off the job — or if they did they wouldn’t stay away for long.

It’s important to remember these basic principles as the league and union try to work toward an agreement, ideally this week, that will allow training camps to open. At some point, the NFL may have to say, “These are the rules, they’re designed to provide the safest workplace under the circumstances, you agreed to the CBA after the pandemic began, let’s get to work.”