The NFL and the NFL Players Association have made progress on portions of a new collective bargaining agreement, though significant issues need to be resolved before one can be agreed upon. That was the message NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith sent to his union's membership Thursday in a letter updating the state of talks.
ESPN obtained a copy of the letter, which explains that the owners are seeking an expansion of the regular season from 16 to 17 games with a reduced preseason and a possible expansion of the playoffs. The "major issues" on which agreement remains elusive include:
The percentage of revenue players would receive each year in salaries and benefits. Sources have told ESPN multiple times throughout this process that the players believe a significant increase in their share of the revenue is necessary if they're to agree to an expanded season. The current CBA stipulates that the players' share of revenue not fall below 47.5% in any given year, or over the life of the 10-year deal.
Minimum cash spending requirements for teams, or a so-called "salary floor" that would require teams to spend a greater percentage of their available salary cap.
The continuation and, ultimately, an increase of the NFL Legacy Fund, which benefits pre-1993 players through increased pensions.
Increases in individual player minimum salaries.
Removal of the "fully funded rule" that players view as an obstacle to negotiating fully guaranteed contracts. The rule states that any fully guaranteed money in a contract must be held in escrow at the time of signing. Players view this as an antiquated rule held over from less robust economic times when there was reason to worry about teams making their payrolls.
Rules governing contracts for first-round draft picks and restricted free agents.
An NFL-proposed liability waiver in contracts.
These are major issues, but the union stressed in its letter there is already agreement on many others, including benefits increases, reduced fines for on-field violations, reductions in the amount of contact permitted during training camp, increased minimum salaries and practice-squad benefits and "significant modifications to the drug and disciplinary policies."
Sources familiar with the talks say a new deal could be completed quickly if agreement is reached on the top-line economic issue of the players' share of revenue, but there has been little movement on that front since October. Those same sources say the expectation is that the new deal will be for 10 years, like the current one. The current CBA, signed in 2011, expires in March 2021.
If players and owners can resolve their differences to the point where the union feels it can recommend a proposed new CBA to its members, the deal would still have to be ratified by a majority of NFL players. There remains some hope that a deal could be reached in time for this year's Super Bowl or the start of the 2020 league year, but more face-to-face owner/player negotiating sessions are necessary to make that happen, and none are scheduled.
The league sent a letter to the clubs Thursday evening after reports of the union memo surfaced in the media. The memo, according to a league source, stated in part: "A number of important issues remain to be resolved and we remain committed to the bargaining positions reviewed with you at the December meeting. We believe that the most constructive approach is not to negotiate publicly but to continue the discussions directly and privately with the union, with the active involvement of [executive committee] members and the supervision of the full committee."