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2020 CBA: Did NFL Players Get Played By Their Owners?

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By Bernadette Berger*

In early March, while the NBA, MLB, NHL, and MLS grappled with the global health crisis of COVID-19 by suspending seasons, postponing tournaments, and canceling games, the NFL and NLFPA were in the final stages of a ten-month long labor negotiation.[1]  The result: an eleven-year CBA.  Some claim that players ultimately agreed to the CBA due to earnest lobbying by team player representatives.[2]  Some supporters of the CBA cited concerns about the COVID-19 virus delaying renegotiations if players rejected the CBA.[3]  However, many well-known players have already publicly disapproved of this new agreement.[4]

The NLFPA pled that “[n]o decision can be made in a vacuum and this union and its business are not immune from macro-economic factors, regardless of how successful our business has been over recent decades.”[5]  Some of the most significant changes include the addition of a seventeenth game and the expansion of the playoff field from twelve to fourteen teams.[6]  The following provides an analysis of the main points of the new 2020 CBA.[7]

Overall Economics

The 2020 CBA notably added a seventeenth game to the regular NFL season.[8]  To compensate for the extra game, NFL team owners offered players a “media kicker,” adding a new revenue stream for players  based on overall growth in television.[9]  Critics argue that the NFLPA failed to utilize this “valuable chip for optimal gain,” therefore making concessions without any significant benefit.[10]  The 2020 CBA’s eleven-year term is the longest of any CBA in any major professional sport.[11]  While a long term deal is beneficial for NFL owners, NFL players are at a severe disadvantage as they have forgone any possibility of an opt-out to renegotiate during the term of the agreement.[12]  Furthermore, compared to other major pro sports leagues, NFL players’ 48% revenue split falls as one of the lowest percentage guaranteed to players.[13] 

Player Salaries

As a result of the new CBA, players receiving minimum-salaries will see a 20% increase in money earned.[14]  The addition of a seventeenth game also means that NFL teams will pay players over thirty-six weeks.[15]  The new CBA also included a new Veteran Salary Benefit, allowing qualifying players signing a one-year, minimum-salary contract to collect a benefit of $137,500 on top of his salary.[16]  As far as offseason and preseason pay, the new deal provides increases for players in both aspects.[17]  Lastly, the new CBA increases benefits and pensions for retired players.[18]


The new CBA expands NFL roster sizes from fifty-three players to fifty-five.[19]  This expansion means more jobs for NFL players and, more importantly, additional flexibility for roster management.[20]  An expanded roster also provides more opportunity for “practice-squad players to earn active-roster salaries.”[21]

Drug Policies

Citing an increased emphasis on clinical care over punishment, the new CBA eliminates suspensions for positive marijuana tests and also “significantly relaxes the rules on drug testing. . . narrowing the window for testing . . . and reducing the number of players who are subjected to testing.”[22]  Furthermore, THC levels required to qualify as a positive test increased from 35 nanograms of carboxy THC per milliliter of urine to 150.[23] 

Commissioner Power

NFL Commissioner Goodell has long been touted as the “Conduct Commissioner.”[24]  Players have challenged Goodell’s “judge, jury and executioner” powers as unfair, calling for the implementation of an independent arbitrator to oversee the NFL’s discipline and appeals process.[25]  As a result of the new CBA, Commissioner Goodell will retain his appeal power; however, neutral arbitration will handle initial discipline.[26]

Player Health and Safety

The 2020 CBA also places new limits on practices and play procedures, “in furtherance of NFL and the NFLPA’s ongoing efforts and express intention to enhance the safety and performance of NFL field surfaces and playing areas, and thereby advance the safety and protect the health of NFL players.”[27]  Under those pretenses, the CBA prescribes that each team may only have four joint practices in the preseason, and during training camp, Clubs are limited to a strict length and number of days restriction for padded practice.[28]  Despite NLF owner’s claimed interest in the health and safety of their players, many are calling bluff due to the added wear and tear on players’ bodies due to the added seventeenth game. [29]  Players’ concern for their safety falls on deaf ears, as Commissioner Goodell announced that the 2020 CBA would “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.”[30]

*Staff Writer, Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports Law Journal, J.D. Candidate, May 2021, Villanova University Charles Widger School of

[1] See generally Collective Bargaining Agreement (Mar. 5, 2020), available at,%202020.pdf [hereinafter 2020 NLF CBA] (stating terms of agreement between NLC clubs and NFL players); see also Michael McCann, Six Possible Fallouts From the Suspended NBA Season, Sports Illustrated (Mar. 12, 2020), (reporting on impact of pro sports suspending seasons).

[2] See Andrew Brandt, The NFL CBA Aftermath, Sports Illustrated (Mar. 19, 2020), (reporting CBA passage on slight margins of 1019 votes to 959 votes).

[3] See id. (observing “real resignation about NFL players and their lack of leverage with Owners”).

[4] See Colleen Kane, The Deadline for NFL Players to Vote on the CBA is Saturday. Here’s What You Need to Know, Chicago Tribune (Mar. 12, 2020), (reporting player reactions); see, e.g., J.J. Watt (@JJWatt), Twitter (Feb. 20, 2020, 8:21 PM), (“Hard no on that proposed CBA.”); Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12), Twitter (Feb. 26, 2020, 5:42 PM), (voting no Rodgers explained that, “[t]he value of our players and the strength of the NLFPA can only be realized, if we ourselves know and believe in our worth”).  Applauding the NBA and MLB for suspending their seasons due to COVID-19, Seattle Seahawks Quarterback, Russell Wilson took the opportunity to publicly shame the NFL for not putting its players as a first priority, stating “WE should not rush the next 10 YEARS for Today’s satisfaction.”  Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson), Twitter (Feb. 26, 2020, 10:16 AM), (“I VOTE NO”).

[5] DeMaurice Smith (@DeSmithNFLPA), Twitter (Mar. 15, 2020, 12:38 AM), (quoting Executive Director of NFLPA, DeMaurice Smith) (speaking on recent CBA agreement).

[6] See Kane, supra note 4 (detailing key negotiating terms).

[7] For further discussion of key topics within the 2020 CBA, see infra notes 8–30 and accompanying text.

[8] See Andrew Brandt, The Inequities of the Proposed CBA, Sports Illustrated (Mar. 3, 2020), (arguing additional seventeenth game gives Owners more inventory and long-term cost certainty).

[9] See Brandt, supra note 2 (arguing “despite incremental gains in other areas, are not getting enough in return for giving up the most important concession of the entire negotiation, the 17th game”); see also Cody Benjamin, NFL's New CBA Explained, CBS Sports (Mar. 16, 2020), (describing media kicker).

[10] Brandt, supra note 8 (reporting Owners made seventeen game season “non-negotiable”).

[11] See id. (referring to record breaking ten-year 2011 CBA).

[12] See id. (noting unknown economic landscape could mean players will lose out on major revenues).

[13] See Tom Schad, Here Are the Six Biggest changes in the NFL’s New Collective Bargaining Agreement, USA Today (Mar. 15, 2020), (reporting NBA players receive between 49% and 51%, NHL players receive at least 50% and MLB players receive approximately 50%).

[14] See Dan Graziano, NFL CBA proposal: What players are Voting on in the Deal, Plus the Biggest Changes, ESPN (Mar. 3, 2020), (reporting minimum salary boosts from $510,000 to $610,000 in 2020, and $1.065 million in 2030 will effect roughly 60% of NFL players).

[15] See 2020 NFL CBA, Art. 31(b) (amending salary term).

[16] See Dan Graziano, Inside NFL Free-Agent Contract Numbers: Who Really Got the Best Deals?, ESPN (Mar. 26, 2020), (applying only to players that have at least four credited seasons and meet other qualifications based on his previous contract).

[17] See Graziano, supra note 14 (including performance-based pay and postseason pay and benefits for current and former players).

[18] See Grant Gordon, NFL Player Vote Ratifies New CBA Through 2030 Season, NLF (Mar. 15, 2020 10:14 AM), (summarizing notable changes in new deal).

[19] See Schad, supra note 13 (reporting larger practice squads as well).

[20] See Graziano, supra note 14 (explaining game-day active roster increase from forty-six to forty-eight players).

[21] Id. (detailing results of expanded NFL rosters).

[22] Schad, supra note 13 (noting players will now only be tested during first two weeks of training camp); see also Judy Battista, Guide to Understanding Proposed CBA Ahead of Voting Deadline, NFL (Mar. 9, 2020), (detailing changes in drug and discipline policy).

[23] See Schad, supra note 13 (indicating NLF’s relaxed treatment of marijuana use).

[24] Andrew Brandt, Goodell, 10 Years Later, Sports Illustrated (Feb. 18, 2016), (detailing Goodell’s tenure as NFL Commissioner).

[25] Id. (listing high profile NLF players subjected to Goodell’s rein); see also Graziano, supra note 14 (explaining unfair policy of having people in charge of imposing discipline serving as ones who hear appeals).

[26] See Brandt, supra note 2 (“no long jury, but still judge and executioner.”) (citations omitted).

[27] 2020 NFL CBA, Art. 39, § 11 (outlining responsibilities of Field Surface Safety & Performance Committee).

[28] See Schad, supra note 13 (reporting during preseason two-a-day practices, teams cannot run padded and full-speed practices for more than two and a half hours and no Club may hold more than total of sixteen padded practices); see also 2020 NFL CBA, Art. 23, § 7(c) (outlining rules on conduct of practices).

[29] See John Wall Street, Why the NFLPA Voted to Approve the New CBA, Sports Illustrated (Mar. 20, 2020), (commenting on “most controversial deal point” for players).

[30] Gordon, supra note 18 (quoting NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell) (reporting reactions to passage of NFL 2020 CBA).