Huge Stakes in the Proposed NFL Labor Agreement

March 11, 2020 Updated: March 12, 2020


As professional football fans in the United States know, the National Football League’s owners and the players’ union representatives have been working for almost a year on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

The owners have ratified the agreement, and now, the ball is in the players’ court. If a majority of players vote in favor of the CBA, pro football should continue uninterrupted for the next 10 years. If, on the other hand, they reject it, then the 2020 season probably will be the last until at least 2022. The stakes are enormous—for the players, the owners, and for millions of football fans.

As a fan, I hope that the players approve the agreement. That, of course, is a completely selfish position, but it’s honest. But let’s try to understand both sides’ positions.

The Deal and Problems

The owners have the upper hand. After all, they are owners, and ownership still has its rights and privileges. To their credit, the owners have agreed to give the players much of what they asked for—at least, that’s what I heard one player, whose name I didn’t catch, tell a TV host in explaining his approval of the CBA.

Financial benefits include: higher minimum pay (20 percent in year one with more to follow), three years instead of four to be vested for retirement, a 50 percent increase in annual retirement payments, extended post-career medical benefits, and, most spectacularly, a doubling of each team’s salary cap over the course of 10 years. Other benefits were more days off and fewer contact drills during training camp, and less stringent testing for THC (some NFL players swear that marijuana eases their pain).

The major sticking point is the addition of a 17th regular-season game to the current 16-game schedule. Personally, I don’t like this idea. Sixteen games are enough (even too many, if your team is suffering through a miserable season). A number of players oppose a longer season due to the physical toll on their bodies and the increased risk of career-ending injuries. Indeed, I concur and sympathize with the players about this.

So, why do the owners want a longer season? Simple: Each game is a lucrative source of revenue. And indeed, the extra financial benefits that the players will receive need to come from somewhere, so why not an extra game?

But there’s an ugly wrinkle in the owners’ proposal for a 17th game: No player would be paid more than $250,000 for that game.

That number is irrelevant if you’re one of the many players on each team earning less than $1 million per season, but for the star players—players who currently get paid a half-million, one million, or more per game, a quarter-million is a sizable pay cut. Why risk your body for that?

In my opinion, the owners demeaned themselves with this petty provision. They could afford to pay their best players at their usual per-game rate. To lowball your star players in this way seems like a gratuitous poke in the eye.

Dividing Players

The structure of the current proposal has driven a wedge between higher-paid and lower-paid players. The players at the bottom end of each team’s payrolls will be disproportionately benefited. Since the average NFL career is only a few years long, these players would love to accumulate a million or two dollars before they move on to the next stage of their lives, and the CBA puts them closer to that goal.

By contrast, higher-paid players, already earning tens of millions during their careers, don’t see as much marginal value in the raises that the CBA would give them. Sure, star players would rather retire with $150 million in the bank instead of $75 million, but not necessarily at the expense of getting drilled by human torpedoes for an extra 60 minutes each year.

Since there are more players whose financial well-being would be markedly improved by the new CBA than players who are financially set for life, the odds favor the agreement being approved. However, such an outcome is by no means certain. In addition to the opposition by the rich minority of players, there’s also ideological opposition.

Some players see the relations between owners and players not as one of senior and junior partners in a shared enterprise, but as class warfare.

Carolina Panthers’ safety Eric Reid (perhaps most famous for being Colin Kaepernick’s No. 1 supporter in national anthem protests) has brought a revolutionary fervor to the fray. Reid’s hired legal guns have characterized the proposed CBA as abusive, unfair exploitation. How dare the owners limit the players’ share of league revenue to 48.5 percent! The players should get the lion’s share (in accordance with the labor theory of value, perhaps?). I wonder if Reid studied Marxism in college, because he surely seems to want to expropriate the expropriators.

Well, that’s his privilege. Having been a leftist as a young man, I surmise that Reid is caught up in negativism. The world isn’t always a fair place, and there are indeed many ways in which to improve conditions for workers and “the little guy.” Passionate people like Reid want major change and want it now. Sooner or later, though, a wise person understands that it can be counterproductive and destructive to let the good, or even the so-so, be the enemy of the perfect.

I’m not sure where else Reid could earn more than his $7.35 million annual average salary for playing football. I’m not implying that he should just take the money and shut up, but if he succeeds in blowing up the proposed CBA, does he want to put a big hurt on the financial well-being of players who are a lot less financially secure than he is? Think twice before killing the goose that lays the golden eggs for your teammates.

Will the players accept or reject the CBA? We’ll see this weekend. Although an imperfect agreement, most players—the lower-paid ones—stand to benefit if they approve it. Their choice boils down to this: Approve the agreement and improve your financial situation considerably, or deep-six it, lose your 2021 NFL income, and face a ton of uncertainty.

Mark Hendrickson, an economist, recently retired from the faculty of Grove City College, where he remains a fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith and Freedom.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.