After months of very little news and reports of the two sides being apart on key issues such as extending the season, word came out late Wednesday that the NFL and NFL Players Association might have a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in place by the end of the week. The current CBA is set to expire at the end of the 2020 season.
Adam Schefter of ESPN was the first to break the multitude of majors changes coming to the new agreement. The two big changes for fans will be more playoff teams and eventually more regular season games.
Since 1990, six teams from each conference made the postseason every year. Initially, that meant three Wild Card teams and three division winners. When the NFL moved to four divisions per conference in 2002, they kept the six playoff teams in each conference. Under the new CBA, seven teams will now make the postseason by adding back a third Wild Card. The only team receiving a bye into the divisional round will be the top seed in each conference. There will be three Saturday Wild card games and three Sunday Wild Card games.
The regular season format has been in place even longer. The NFL has played a 16-game season since 1978, introducing a bye week in 1990. Under the potential new deal, NFL teams will play 17 games in the regular season and still receive the bye. This change would not take place until the 2021 season at the earliest.
While this hasn’t been confirmed, the move wouldn’t add a home game for any team but would likely provide the NFL with a glut of neutral-site game inventory. Games in China, Mexico City, Canada, Europe, and beyond would return home game revenue back to home stadiums that had to give up games to play host in faraway locales.
In exchange for playing more games later in the year, the league would reduce the number of preseason games from four to three. This hurts players trying to make a name for themselves and put good play on tape for other teams, but fans will certainly welcome the change.
The share of revenue that would go to players also goes up, from 47% to 48% in a 16-game schedule and further to 48.5% when the 17-game schedule kicks in. This is what the players wanted and their only bargaining chip was more games.
Owners are beginning to meet Thursday to discuss the potential agreement. They will continue into Friday. The NFLPA leadership was supposed to meet Thursday, but travel problems have apparently delayed their meeting until Friday. The players fly commercially while the owners usually don’t.
Schefter’s breathless reporting was obviously leaked by one side with an agenda. It’s most likely the owners, who could be trying to force the players’ hand in the court of public opinion. Just something to keep in mind in the whole thing.