NFL's new collective bargaining agreement expands season, playoffs

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — In these uncertain times caused by COVID-19, the NFL managed to achieve labor peace that will last through the 2030 season. On Sunday, the league's player union confirmed its members narrowly approved a pending collective bargaining proposal, 1,019-959, sealing a new 11-year deal with ownership. 

The electronic vote concluded at midnight Saturday and an independent auditor verified, tallied and certified the results. 

The agreement will bring a number of significant changes, most notably the expansion of the regular season and playoffs.

"We are pleased that the players have voted to ratify the proposed new CBA, which will provide substantial benefits to all current and retired players, increase jobs, ensure continued progress on player safety, and give our fans more and better football," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a statement. "We appreciate the tireless efforts of the members of the Management Council Executive Committee and the NFLPA leadership, both of whom devoted nearly a year to detailed, good faith negotiations to reach this comprehensive, transformative agreement."

The agreement will bring a number of significant changes, most notably the expansion of the regular season and playoffs. Starting as early as 2021, the NFL will begin playing a 17-game regular season, while two additional wild-card teams will be added to the postseason starting this year. 

To compensate for the longer seasons, both the preseason and padded practices will be reduced. The exhibition slate will be cut to three games, with the final week now acting as an addition bye week before the start of the regular season. And padded practices will be slashed from 28 to 16, with no practice lasting longer than 2.5 hours. 

There are also decreases with how long players can be required to be at the team's facility in a given day during training camp. 

More: Lions release OT Rick Wagner, clearing $6.1 million in salary cap space

For the concession of expanding the season, the players' share of revenue will increase from 47% to 48%, eventually moving to 48.5% when the 17-game season is implemented. 

Rosters will also be expanding, from 53 to 55 players, with 48 players active on game day instead of 46. Practice squads will also grow, from 10 to 12 players in 2020, then 14 in 2022. 

The deal also provide a significant bump in salaries for the league's minimum earners, which make up more than half of NFL rosters. There will be a $100,000 increase in minimum salary, marking a roughly 20 percent increase from the $510,000 in 2020. Meanwhile, practice squad players will also see a pay bump, from $8,000 to $11,500 per week, paired with 401(k) eligibility and tuition assistance. 

Additionally, the league agreed to overhaul its drug policy, particularly in regards to marijuana. The testing window has been reduced from four months to two weeks and players can no longer be suspended strictly for testing positive from THC. 

With labor peace achieved a year before the current CBA was set to expire, the NFL has other pressing issues to address ahead of next week. 

The new league year is set to begin on March 18, coinciding with the opening of free agency, but there's a growing expectation future league dates, including April's draft, will be pushed back as the world reacts to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.