Signed in 2011, the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is entering its last season and is set to expire after the 2020 season. As Pro Football Network Insider Tony Pauline previously reported, the hope was that the major framework of the deal would be in place prior to the Super Bowl and that it would be approved by the start of the NFL Combine. Furthermore, one of the larger issues that would be discussed was around a 17-game season. 

With the Combine fast approaching, many are wondering what the next steps are. In this week’s episode of PFN Draft Insiders, Andy Herman and Tony Pauline sat down to discuss just that. Pauline reports that the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) has a deal on the table and that it is currently being reviewed.

All eyes are now on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFLPA President Eric Winston and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith to get a deal done but, as expected, there are a handful of changes that have already become the focus of discussions.

You can listen to the conversation here beginning at the 13:20 mark. We’ve also included the podcast player at the end of this article and have transcribed most of the details below.

The 17-game season isn’t a major sticking point

When the first details of the CBA negotiations between the NFL and NFLPA emerged, all eyes found themselves drawn towards the proposal of a 17th regular-season game for each team. With injuries and player safety in the headlines like never before due to medical concerns and high profile retirements, there was an assumption that this would be a hard sell. Pauline, however, suggests that despite some concerns from players, this is unlikely to be as much of a major issue as many are speculating.

Part of the reason for this is that there would be a domino effect and the number of preseason games would likely be reduced. As things stand, each NFL team is scheduled to play four games, with the exception of the two teams involved in the Hall of Fame game who play five. Pauline is hearing that there’s potential that the number of games per team could be cut to just two. With teams in recent years opting not to play their starters, particularly in the final preseason game, it feels as if this is an inevitability.

The Super Bowl could be moved back

When it comes to a 17-game season, Pauline is hearing that one of the main attractions in the new CBA is that it would allow the NFL the opportunity to push the Super Bowl back. Currently falling on the first Sunday in February, the NFL’s ideal scenario is that the game would be played on Presidents’ Day weekend. While the schedule would need some manipulating, the feeling is that having the Super Bowl the day before a public holiday is a great opportunity, especially with some of the late finishes in recent years.

What would happen with home and away splits?

Pauline reported that the likely scenario would be a rotating schedule where a team would play eight home games one year and then nine home games the next year. He also noted that the NFL would like to play more neutral site games, including in Mexico City and London. While there wouldn’t be an international game every week, there would likely be an increase from the current schedule format.

In the new CBA, the NFL roster could be expanded

With the potential addition of an extra game to the schedule, Pauline noted that there’s likely to be a push from the NFLPA for each team to be granted additional roster spots. The current rules allow for 53 players on the roster but only 46 of them are active for each game.

Many players currently find themselves in limbo following the preseason roster cuts as each team releases players to get down from 90 players to 53. Increasing the number of players who get contracts throughout the season would appeal to the NFLPA by supporting its members through additional opportunities. Perhaps more importantly, though, it could reduce the strain on those players who do make the active roster by providing a larger number of players who can take over from them during games.

The impact that this has on the salary cap is still unknown. The assumption is that it will increase as it has during each year of the current CBA, but with complexities such as the top 51 rule meaning that the lowest two earners don’t currently count towards the cap, it may not be as obvious as an increase in the monetary amount. 

The players want a higher share of the revenue

This was perhaps the least surprising of Pauline’s revelations. The current CBA guarantees players at least 47% of total revenue. If players are going to be expected to play more games, then they will want to be compensated appropriately.

Similarly, an increase to roster size becomes a lot less appealing if it leads to the same share of revenue simply being split more ways. Players will want their financial situation to improve and this is their best opportunity to get it done. Exactly what percentage the NFLPA is asking for has yet to be confirmed, but this will likely be the point that headlines the negotiations with NFL owners not known for their willingness to part with money.

What if a deal isn’t agreed?

There’s still some time before the current CBA expires as the 2020 season will be able to take place regardless of what happens. Even if there is no deal in sight, both sides would like to avoid a work stoppage leading to a lockout and the feeling around the league is that the deal needs to be completed by this year’s NFL Combine or there could be lengthy delays.

The sense that Pauline is getting is that there’s an increasing feeling of desperation with every week that passes and that, especially given the potential addition of a 17th game, all parties would like to reach an agreement sooner rather than later.