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The 2021 NFL season currently hangs on the approval of a 17-game schedule

An update on where talks stand concerning football in 2021.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
The NFL is really dialed in on a 17-game schedule.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The world of business is a complicated one and when it comes to the business relationship between the NFL and the NFLPA - it’s about as complicated as you can get.

Talks picked up this week, but unfortunately, there wasn’t much progress made. The big hang up is the fact that the NFL has included the means to extend to regular season to 17-games in the new CBA. All involved parties plan on meeting as soon as possible to continue discussions, but nothing has been set in stone just yet.

Before we get into the story, let me briefly detail how this goes down:

First, the NFL and the leaders of the NFLPA sit down together and hammer out a new proposal. Once both sides agree on the matter, the proposal has to go through NFLPA’s approval process. The approval process consists of the union’s Executive Committee recommending the proposal to the board of player reps. Once the recommendation is given, two-thirds of the board have to approve the deal and then 50 percent plus one of the roughly 1,900 dues-paying members of the union have to accept the deal.

So, as you can see, there has to be quite the contingent of players that are good to go with the deal. Converting that many people is never easy to do.

Per Dan Graziano of ESPN, the league (NFL) and the union (NFLPA) met this past week to further discussions concerning the new CBA. Right now, the union’s - and I say that as a general description - biggest issue with the new deal is the fact that it contains language for a 17-game season.

Apparently, there are still certain player reps who oppose a 17-game schedule, no matter what, but the plan is to discuss the topic further. Both sides intend to do so and they also want the deal done before the 2020 season begins on March 18, but no hard date has been scheduled as of yet. That doesn’t imply apathy, however, as talks could begin as early as next week, according to Graziano.

Now, it’s important to mention that the 17-game schedule isn’t actually mandated in the new CBA. The league has put in language that gives the NFL the option to add the extra game during the 2021-2023 seasons, but it’s pretty clear that they will add the extra game during that timeframe.

Players would also get a much larger share of revenue under the new CBA. The amount would rise over 48% and could go higher depending on how much the league makes off of TV deals. If the deal is approved before March 18, then it would cancel out the current CBA language for 2020 and run through the 2029 season.

Since the league and the union were able to get past the first stage of negotiations, it’s now up to the Executive Committee and the board of player reps to find common ground. Mark Maske of the Washing Post reports that both parties met last Thursday for eight hours, but nothing was resolved. Maske also states they will continue to meet in hopes of figuring something out.

He also shed extra insight into more language that’s involved with the deal:

Some players have expressed opposition to a 17-game season. But the league has tied its concessions to the players on other provisions in the proposed CBA to the players’ acceptance of a longer regular season. Owners want the 17-game season as a revenue-boosting measure.

A reduced preseason would accompany the 17-game regular season, which would take effect at some point in the early years of the 10-year labor deal. The NFL playoff field likely would be expanded from 12 to 14 teams at some point. The players would benefit from concessions in the drug policies and the system of player discipline. There also could be further restrictions placed on teams’ offseason programs and practice-field hitting.

But some players apparently believe the league and owners should be making further concessions in exchange for a 17-game season. Both sides said Thursday there has been no deadline set by the league for the players to ratify the proposed CBA. The current 10-year CBA runs through the 2020 season. However, some provisions in the new deal would take effect immediately for next season if the players ratify the proposed CBA before the new league year begins and the free agent market opens in mid-March.

There’s another issue that may complicate negotiations concerning the CBA and the 17-game schedule. The NFLPA also has to elect a new president before the league year and that guy could be Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung. The veteran offensive lineman is skeptical of a 17-game season and has been on record talking about how he wants to “disrupt the NFL establishment”. If he is elected president, then there’s a good chance that entire deal gets thrown out the window, which would obviously stall talks for an indefinite amount of time.

Okung’s candidacy is also intriguing due to the fact the union was able to determine that he violated the union’s constitution and certain by-laws by gathering and disseminating confidential information.

Now, obviously, Okung won’t be the only guy running for the union’s presidency, so there’s a chance someone who is a bit more flexible is chosen, but it’s certainly something to monitor as the election draws closer.

What does it all mean?

Well, for one, this is standard practice when it comes to the CBA. We saw it in 2011 when it actually reached the point of a lockout. The regular season was salvaged, but it took until July 25 to work things out, so don’t be surprised if this drags on into the summer.

I really don’t see how this relationship works between the NFL and the NFLPA. Both sides are always dissatisfied with the other and when it comes to “negotiations”, it always seems like the NFL has the upper hand. The NFL is also not afraid to exploit the “little brother” image of the NFLPA and always operates from a hard-line stance.

Which I guess is expected of a billion-dollar business, but damn. The owners aren’t doing this without the players and they know that. Yet, they want to continue to put them in harms way by adding another game and by expanding the playoff field.

It’s completely understandable why the players wouldn’t want a 17-game season and the idea of the NFL placing an “option” of adding the extra game at will seems a bit backward. Like Graziano points out in his twitter thread, a more concrete date would give the players more time/more understanding of how/when/why to negotiate their upcoming contracts. That doesn’t sound like an unreasonable compromise, at all.

Setting the 17-game schedule to expand in like, 2026 for example, would give players plenty of time to prepare, it would give the league time to prepare and figure the best way to max out revenue when it comes to TV contracts, concessions, etc., and it would give both parties a three-year trial run for the 17-game schedule. Depending on the outcome, the league and the union could then work out details concerning moving forward when the CBA is up in 2029.

At the same time, if the league absolutely refuses to back down from the 17-game schedule and the players also believe that it’s an inevitable change, then why would the players sacrifice game checks in 2021 for something that will happen, anyway?

Right now, everything seems like an organized mess. Hopefully it’ll all get straightened out before any significant time is lost.