The NFL and NFL Players Association have approached the negotiations on the 2020 season like negotiations on a broader labor deal: Start with the easy issues, and then move to the difficult ones.
As to football in a pandemic, the easy ones are done. The difficult ones remain.
Ian Rapoport of the NFL reports that “[a]lmost everything is done and agreed to except for number of preseason games and testing protocols.” Those are two very significant issues, however.
The NFL wants two preseason games, the NFLPA wants none, and the two sides are stuck at an impasse on the issue. The testing protocols remain a point of contention, given that the players want testing more frequently. Throw in the fact that it may not be easy to get results quickly (and that doing so could slow down the process of finalizing tests for the general public), it will not be a simple process to reach a consensus on how often testing will be conducted and how quickly teams and players reasonably will obtain results.
Rapoport’s final point is this: “The economics are not yet finalized, either.”
That’s perhaps the most significant remaining area of tension. It was Rapoport and his colleagues who first floated, under the umbrella of the league’s in-house media conglomerate, the notion of salary givebacks. Then, NFL Media reported on the fact that the league suggested placing 35 percent of 2020 player salaries into escrow, which will make it easier to claw back money later.
The NFLPA recognizes that lost revenues now will impact salary-cap calculations later, but the suggestion that any player should take less in a season during which players will be assuming a greater risk is nonsensical. Plenty of the men who play in 2020 won’t even be in the league in 2021, whether due to injury, retirement, or erosion of skills relative to younger, cheaper options. Why take less now (while absorbing all the risks of football in a pandemic) so that there will be more later, if the players who take less now won’t be around to get more later?
Taken together, these aren’t small issues. They are major points of contention that must be resolved before anything can happen. Meanwhile, rookies are due to report for COVID-19 testing in only nine days.
That leads us back to the point that J.J. Watt made earlier this week on #PFTPM: What’s the rush? It makes much more sense to get it right and delay things a bit than it does to rush into a headwind that could blow down what ultimately could be a house of cards.