BY Art Thiel 01:44PM 03/15/2020

Thiel: Despite virus and union, NFL gets 17th game

By a narrow margin, players vote to accept new 10-year labor deal with NFL, which gave more to the lessers to get a 17th game. But can they get to 16 this year?

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith accepted the NFL’s demand for a 17th game./ Getty Images

By a narrow margin, NFL owners have succeeded in paying a little to gain a lot — a decade of labor peace, a 17th game starting as soon as 2021 and more playoff games in 2020 (which they could have imposed on their own).

By providing a few more jobs (rosters and practice squads grow) and a little more pay to the least-compensated players — the bottom 20 or so on a given NFL roster — the owners induced 51.5 percent of the union to approve a new collective bargaining agreement though 2030.

Now, of course, all the parties have to have is a season. That outcome was not a subject of negotiation. But the pandemic had an influence.

The deal was announced Sunday morning after the Saturday night closure of a 10-day voting window. In that time, some of the richest veterans, including Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and former Seahawks CB Richard Sherman, argued primarily that the deal wasn’t good enough to abuse their bodies a 17th time (and, inevitably, an 18th time down the road).

The counter-argument by many players likely to be in the league for three years or less was simple: The minimum wage in the NFL is more money than most will ever make, and they would not jeopardize that by threatening a strike.

The intensely contested vote, 1019 to 959, was close and probably tipped in the favor of owners by the real-world events that happened in the NFL’s off-season.

The nationwide shutdown of sports and the closures of colleges and schools, as well as much of America’s normal life, didn’t hit the NFL calendar as hard. But it likely influenced some no voters to change their minds.

The stock market plunge and some positive tests among pro athletes for the novel coronavirus — including a member of the XFL Seattle Dragons, whose season has been ended — brought home, as Pro Football Talk reported, a sense of vulnerability to some. But obviously not everyone. More than 500 of the union’s estimated 2,500 members who paid dues last season couldn’t be bothered to vote.

Even though the current deal, reached in 2011 after a four-week lockout of players, still had the 2020 season to go, owners spent nearly 10 months of quiet negotiations with the  union’s executive council to get a new CBA in place ahead of rights-fees negotiations with TV and streaming networks.

They thought they had an acceptable agreement done Feb. 20, when they leaked details of a tentative agreement through the league’s house organ,, and its subsidiary,

But numerous players were unhappy with the 17th game, especially Sherman, a union vice-president.

“It’s always odd,  when you hear (from owners) player safety is their biggest concern, and they’re really standing up for player safety,” he said in February. “But it seems like player safety has a price tag. Player safety up to the point of, ‘Hey, 17 games makes us this much money, so we really don’t care how safe they are if you’re going to pay us this much money to play another game.’

“That’s the part that’s really concerning for us as a union.”

Not quite concerning enough, apparently, even if part of the deal includes dropping the number of fake games from four to three, along with fewer full-contact practice days in camp (28 to 16).

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith released a statement saying, well, the union can’t have everything.

”The current proposal contains increases across almost every category of wages, hours, working conditions and benefits for former and current players,” he wrote. ”Like any contested negotiation . . . the proposal also reflects trades with the counter-party which have to be carefully weighed and assessed across the entirety of the deal.

“Please be confident that I hear, loudly and clearly, those of you who have passionately expressed their perspective that these gains are not enough when weighed against, for example, adding another game. That position reflects how some members have chosen to weigh what aspect of the deal is important to them.”

Also included are improvements to pension benefits for current and former players,  and changes to the league’s drug and discipline policies, all of which go into effect immediately. The deal would increase the players’ share of league revenue from 47% to 48% in 2021 and to at least 48.5% in any season in which 17 regular-season games are played.

But the process and result was sufficiently sour that another former Seahawk, LT Russell Okung, now of the Carolina Panthers and a former executive council member, filed an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the NFLPA and Smith. Okung alleges Smith illegally negotiated the deal and impeded debate on the issue. That complaint is still pending.

For now, the deal is done. The official new business year starts at 1 p.m. Wednesday as scheduled, with commencement of free agency, although there has been talk of postponing the start because potential restrictions on domestic travel may impede players from getting physical exams.

Free agent deals are already reaching tenative agreements, with QB Ryan Tannehill agreeing Sunday to stay with the Tennessee Titans for a four-year extension potentially worth $118 million.

For the moment, it’s business as usual for the biggest American sport, owners getting a 10-year edge on players, yet still able to throw large coin toward a one-hit wonder.

We’ll see if it’s disease-resistant too.


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  • Bruce McDermott

    Pretty sure that game # 18 is not in play until 2030, absent player agreement. I did like the dropping of one exhibition game, though. Those games are glorified scrimmages for the most part…

    • LarryLurex70

      See, that’s the fan argument I can’t stand. Fans dont need the exhibition games to try and make the roster. Players do. Fans don’t need those games to evaluate talent for said roster. Coaches do. Yet, it’s fans and media doing the majority of crying and hand-wringing about a 4-game preseason of “glorified scrimmages” being too long?! You don’t HAVE to watch the preseason in any/every sport, do you? I’m actually amazed/perplexed that apparently so many “fans” are so disturbed by the mere presence of a preseason in their lives that they want it eliminated altogether. If you hate it, just don’t watch it. Is it THAT hard to wait until the regular season?

      • Husky73

        Except that those games are included in the season ticket packages at full freight.

        • art thiel

          Husky73 is correct, Larry. Season ticket buyers are forced to pay full price for 10 games, but get only eight. Of course, coaches and players need the games. So let in those fans who want to watch practice for free, and donate $100 to a charity.

          • Bruce McDermott

            Bingo. Or something like that. Pure money grab by the owners.

          • DB

            Not so, as referenced above. Because the team has been winning and the stadium sold out, a fan wanting to pick up a game is typically going to pay a premium over face these days. I think this prices some folks out. With the lower pre-season pricing, these games can be, and are, sold much more cheaply. It isn’t the regular season but the fan experience, particularly if you are taking a child, isn’t much different. I haven’t attended a pre-season game in many years and have had no trouble selling these games.

          • art thiel

            It’s true that folks who can’t afford the regular season can at least get the stadium experience more cheaply. But they almost always could before buying off the street.

        • LarryLurex70

          While I’m not unsympathetic to the plight of the season ticket holder, I see that as a separate issue, and thought I had specified that my beef has always been with the particular fan and media contingent who believe the NFL preseason to be a personal inconvenience to be done away with.

        • DB

          Not anymore. And least not in my package. Last season I paid $138 for 2 tks in pre-season. I paid $230 for 4 games and $276 for 4 games. Pre-season has been cheaper for a while.

          • Bruce McDermott

            Not true for Charter seat holders. Dunno for the leather seat crowd…

          • DB

            I wasn’t aware of that. It seems really weird that the team would do this for one class of season ticket holders but not all. Very surprised. You would think any non-uniform policy like that would favor the Charter seats vs penalizing them. I wonder what the thinking is and, as you say, what the deal is for the leather seat crowd.?

          • art thiel

            Good to point out.

      • Bruce McDermott

        They can play those games all they want. Just don’t charge us full freight for them. It’s ridiculous, and always has been.

    • art thiel

      The NFL will ask for a re-opener before 2030 for No. 18. Players should be able to make a haul then.

      Full price for fake games is one of the great ripoffs in modern American consumer history. The power of monopoly.

      • DB

        I completely agree with your comment about the pricing of pre-season games. This has been a long-time complaint of fans. Having said that, the past 4 or 5 seasons the pre-season games have cost much less than the regular season (roughly 60%) and the regular games have had variable cost, depending on the game. -At least for season ticket holders. They have (sort of) fixed this. The league is still getting the same total for the season, but fans are paying less for the pre-season, and a premium for some of the popular games on the schedule.

        • art thiel

          I believe he euphemism for that is called dynamic pricing, but I’m glad you pointed out the Seahawks have reduced the ripoff.

  • jafabian

    Seems like the owners manipulated the vote by making things appealing to the younger players, basically how much money they’ll make, since the league is comprised mostly of players under the age of 27. Older players such as Sherman, Wilson, Wagner and especially players like Duane Brown, are few and far between. Younger players won’t be able to see the bigger picture so for that extent DeMaurice Smith failed the players. Now the owners know just how to get things their way from the players.

    I could see an extra playoff round but an extra game seems pointless for teams that are eliminated from the post season by November.

    • art thiel

      Yes, they bought out the larger, lesser class of voters with nickels on the dollar. The 17th game is all about selling content to the networks, not competition.

  • Husky73

    Marvin Miller was Babe Ruth. DeMaurice Smith is Kelly Stauffer.

    • DB

      It’s Stouffer. 😊. And, you’re right.

      • Husky73

        Thank you. Fixed.

  • tor5

    Sherm is right. This really exposes the league’s true lack of concern for player safety. One way to look at this: they’ll play 6.3% more (1/16) for 1.5% more revenue. Or, put another way, the young dudes got suckered into trading 6.3% more of their bodies and mentals for only 1.5% more chicken. You feel me?

    • Kirkland

      Wish Smith could’ve gotten higher minimum salaries (at least $600K) and guaranteed contracts in return for game 17.

    • Kristafarian

      Bodies are too damn Finite.
      And too Precious.

      Parents don’t want their kids to play.
      Players need LIFETIME insurance coverage
      for the mutiple car wrecks they go thru. Every game.

      Mind your Chicken.
      But mind the rest too.

      I think I can see where this is headed.

  • Kirkland

    If I heard correctly, about 500 union members –the equivalent of nine rosters — did not vote on the deal. I’d like to know what their reasons were. Apathy, not knowing the vote was up, anything else?

    • art thiel

      Many of them are itinerant, but all have agents to let them know. And email addresses. If Beyonce wrote them, I bet they’d respond.