We are struggling right now as all major sports are on hold. However, for those of us who are old enough to remember, there is nothing worse than stoppages of leagues due to labor strife. Lockouts and strikes have happened in basically all sports, including the canceling of the 1994 World Series. However, we did get great news (from a fan’s perspective) this weekend from the NFL that the players voted to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement, which will guarantee labor peace through the 2030 season. This means we will have no stoppage of play in the NFL for a decade, sweet music to our ears!
The vote was very close, 1,019-959, and a number of players have come out on social media in both support and against the new deal. You can see that the Saints’ Michael Thomas is clearly not happy, and hints at perhaps our star players might not want to play every week.
???? it time to start load management ????— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) March 15, 2020
Meanwhile, Tom Brady had this to say after the vote was cast.
Well done De— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) March 15, 2020
There seem to be a good number of players who were vocal against this agreement, but in the end it passed. Without getting too much into the nitty gritty of the CBA, let’s hit the highlights and take a look at what this means for the future of the league.
Expanded Regular Season
This will NOT come into play for the 2020 season, and in fact, it could be 2022 before you see this. The owners have a clause in the deal where they can expand the regular season to 17 games, and cut the preseason to three games, starting in 2021. Considering that the owners have been pushing for an 18 game schedule for two or three years now, this seems like a complete inevitability. It is going to happen, and I think it will be in 2021. As of now they haven’t worked out how they will work the unbalanced schedule as far a possible extra bye week, or which team gets the extra home games but again, this is coming. What does this mean for fantasy football? It means another week to manage your team. It means that now leagues that go into Week 18 will be mocked for having their championships in a week that likely won’t mean as much to the teams playing them. It likely means more injuries, and if you believe Michael Thomas above, it could mean our stars perhaps sit a week, or a half, or a quarter. That seems unlikely to me, as they are all competitors and want to win. And with football still being a short season, every game certainly matters. Which will transition us to our next point.
The CBA has two major changes to the playoff format in it. The first is an added wild card team in each conference, meaning that 14 teams in total make the playoffs. In conjunction with that, it means that now only the top seed in each conference will get a bye. While it is good that the race for the bye week will be fiercer and the battle for the third wild card will now keep more teams in contention, this does water down the playoffs even further. This means that the 8-8 Steelers and the 9-7 Cowboys both would have made the playoffs last season. While the Steelers dealt with major injury problems, does anyone consider the 2019 Steelers playoff worthy? Or the dysfunctional Cowboys? From an actual football perspective, this should be looked upon as a negative as it really does hurt the importance of the regular season. We will see many more teams that really don’t deserve it in the playoffs, and likely the game that the third wild card will have to play against the second seed in the conference will probably be one-sided. From a fantasy perspective, this is pretty positive. This means that more teams will play their hardest to the last week of the season in an attempt to get into the playoffs. This could make leagues that go to the last week of the regular season seem a little more normal. However, this should help us see fewer teams resting their stars as playoff positions can still be more in play.
Drug/Substance Abuse Policy Changes
What can be deemed the “Josh Gordon Rule”, there will no longer be suspensions for positive marijuana tests. They will also limit the time that players can be tested to the first two weeks of training camp, as well as raising the threshold for what constitutes a positive test. This is huge for players, like Gordon and Le’Veon Bell who already have positive tests under their belt. Marijuana testing will now almost be looked at as a way to help players with possible addictions, rather than a punishment There are also changes to the policy on performance-enhancing drugs. A first failed test for stimulants carries a two-game suspension, while a first offense for steroids will get you a six-game suspension. A second offense for stimulants is five games, while a second offense for anabolic steroids is a hefty 17 game ban. A DUI will come with a three-game suspension. This will bring some uniformity to the table, so some of what seemed to be uneven punishment for players should come to an end. This is actually really good for fantasy football, as you now know what to expect when a player gets in trouble, and the lack of marijuana suspensions is a game-breaker and will raise the value of the players above and some other known offenders.
Judge, Jury, and Executioner
It also appears that in the new CBA that Commissioner Roger Goddell will no longer be the one handing down discipline as well as the arbitrator in player appeals. This has long been a giant problem for the players as their appeals nearly always fell on deaf ears since the guy handing out the punishment wasn’t going to turn around and then lighten the suspension he just gave out.
Training Camp Changes
The previous limit on padded practices in training camp was 28, which has now been lowered to 16 and there can not be more than three days in a row with such practice. The first five days of camp will have limits on the types of activities players can engage in, and practice can’t last more than two and a half hours. Players can’t be at the team facility for more than 12 hours in a day, and when the season bumps to 17 games, there will be a bye week between the third preseason game and the regular-season opener. This is going to make for some ugly September football. Players won’t be in as good of shape, they likely will have more nagging injuries like hamstrings, and the play in the first couple of weeks just won’t be as sharp. If these complex offensive schemes can only be worked on at this limited amount, it is going to take more time to get timing down and play crisp. And that extra week between the end of the preseason and the start of the regular season is going to seem like an ETERNITY!
Expanded Rosters and Finances
The players also got expanded rosters. The active rosters on game day will now be 48 players, up two from the current 46 man squads. The only stipulation here is that one of those two has to be an offensive lineman, which honestly is probably a good thing. Game week rosters will go from 53 to 55, and practice squads are rising from ten players to twelve in 2020, and 14 in 2022. Most of this will not make much of a difference in fantasy football, as we are generally not playing end of roster guys on a week to week basis. The only potential change this could have is if a team is questioning on whether to deactivate a player who game-time decision, this could keep them active and give them more of a chance to play. Of course, it could mean that they are active and have one carry, a la David Johnson last season in that one game for those who remember. So, expanded rosters have a chance to be a thorn in the side of fantasy players.
The big thing from the player perspective was (of course) financial. They did not get rid of the franchise or transition tags, but teams can’t use both in 2020. The players also did not get guaranteed contracts (which is never happening), but they did get a bigger share of the money pool. With the expanded playoffs this season, the players are looking at a roughly $70.5 million increase in their current 47% of revenue pool. That 47% will climb to 48% in 2021, which could be even more with a new television deal on the horizon. The players did negotiate themselves extra money from the television deal in exchange for that 17th game, and it can climb as high as 48.8% based on the media deal. The players also get a stash of money if the Los Angeles stadium project exceeds projections AND from gambling that happens in stadiums, even if it isn’t related to the NFL. The lowest salaried players, about 60 percent of the league, benefit the most and should see about a 20 percent increase in pay immediately. By 2030, a player with one year experience will earn a minimum of $1.185 million, up from $585,000 in 2020.
There is a limit of 10 international games in any season through 2025 (London is going to happen at some point in our lifetime, but not yet)
There are also increasing bonuses for players for each level of the playoffs they reach.
The salary cap will increase to $198.2 million for 2020.
Retired players will see a boost in their pensions as well as an increase in benefits from the league
With the NFL league year still set to open this Wednesday 3/18 at 4:00 pm we can start looking forward to free agency, the NFL Draft (in whatever form it comes), and then training camp. And with this signed deal, whatever you may think of it, will guarantee that we will see NFL and fantasy football for the next decade which is a very exciting thought.