Thoughts On The Revised CBA

Some people have suggested that the NFL caved on granted all of the issues relating to player safety but won most of the money issues.  Certainly the fans did not win in terms of putting a quality product on the field, at least early in the season.  Perhaps that was unattainable given the constraints due to COVID.  There were some interesting decisions made by each side.

Salary Cap Floor

The NFL initially wanted the entirety of any decrease in the salary cap to fall solely in the 2021 season whereas the Union wanted it spread over ten years.  The NFL then offered a floor of a $165 million salary cap for 2021 and finally a floor of $175 million with any difference between what the cap would have been using the normal formula "repaid" within three additional seasons.  If revenues turn out to be better than expected, the cap for 2021 can be more than $175 million.  That proposal was accepted.

Analysts note that this guaranteed floor allows the teams to formulate a plan for 2021.  Perhaps so, but it does not give much to the players.  In the absence of a guaranteed salary cap floor, if the revenues translated to a $135 million cap limit, I suggest that neither the teams nor the union could have lived with such a low limit.  The players obviously do not want to have a lot of players (primarily free agents but also mid-tier and contributor types) squeezed financially.  Squeezed is far too mild a term: those players would have to be wrung dry or play for little more than veteran's minimum.  Perhaps elite free agents would get something close to what has been occurring, but I doubt it at $135 million.  I do not think the NFL would have liked seeing half to two thirds of the teams cutting four to eight of their best players or engaging in acrimonious negotiations for outright pay cuts. 

I do wonder if enough teams think they could muddle their way through the 2021 season under a $175 million salary cap limit?  Jason Fitzgerald notes that 8 teams would certainly be in violation of $175 million salary cap limit in 2021, and after making adjustments for certain other costs, that number rises to at least 13 teams.  The notion is hard to quantify.  I do think most teams could twist the contracts they have with players enough to be able to handle a $190 million and perhaps even a $175 million salary cap limit.  The NFL will try to create revenue by replacing fans with ads in the seats and by other means.  The same set of vulnerable players will still get squeezed, but if the teams can live with $175 million, then the union will have to give up something to get an increase in the cap for 2021.

This decision not to spread the cap limit loss over six to ten years is a loss for the fans.     

How would a $175 million cap limit affect the Packers in 2021?  Jason Fitzgerald at Overthecap has a nice article listing each teams' cap situation in 2021 at that number.  You can read that article here.  He reached a figure of plus $4.80 million in available salary cap space (I calculated $4.83 million using his methodology).  However, as Mr. Fitzgerald notes, he used current OTC salary cap estimations without making any adjustments.  That means he added $11.86 million (the Packers' current salary cap space estimate under the Rule of 51) as a rollover to the 2021 available cap space estimate without deducting $1.22 million for the 52nd and 53rd contracts, $2.176 million for the sixteen practice squad players now available to teams, and a couple of million for players going on IR/PUP for the 2020 season.  A number of players have incentives they might earn as well.  By the way, playing time incentives will be prorated.  If the player has an incentive for throwing for 4,000 yards, he has to throw for 4,000 yards whether the season is one game long or sixteen to earn the incentive.    

The Packers having a $5.5 million rollover would not be surprising instead of the $11.86 million figure used by OTC, but the rollover could be far less, even close to zero, especially if the Packers sign someone like Damon Harrison or Taylor Gabriel.  A range of $0 to a $5.5 million rollover would transform the plus $4.80 million in salary cap space into a $1.56 to $7 million deficit.  Absent some significant moves, that leaves no money for UFAs like Bakhtiari, Clark, Jones, Linsley, King, Jamaal Williams, and none for RFAs like Chandon Sullivan (a possible priority), Lancaster, Greene, Tonyan, Redmond and others.  The RFAs all were undrafted: the low tender in 2020 was $2.1 million and the 2nd round tender was $3.25 million.  If they are not tendered, the player immediately becomes a free agent.  If tendered and the Packers do not match an offer, the Packers would earn no compensatory pick.  I can easily see the Packers spending $3 to $7 million just on RFA tenders and extensions in a normal year, depending on how each player performs in 2020. 

In practice, the Packers would also have to find about $2.5 million in cap space to sign their 2021 draft class and $3.4 million for the PS and 52nd/53rd players by September of 2021 for another $5.9 million, plus a few million for some cushion for IR/PUP and incentives.   That would leave them with a 2021 salary cap deficit that ranges between roughly $7.4 million to $13 million.  Things could go well or badly on the injury front (or very well with players excelling and earning lots of incentives).

Bottom line is that despite decent looking numbers, the Packers are probably in the bottom quarter of the NFL as to salary cap health simply because four of their eight best players will be free agents in 2021 with two being elite and two being very good players.

Players with the 12 Largest Cap Savings If Released/Waived in early 2021:

Player '21 Savings Player '21 Savings Player '21 Savings
A. Rodgers $4.796M P. Smith $8.00M D. Lowry $3.30M
Z. Smith $10.75M A. Amos $4.55M R. Wagner $4.25M
D. Adams $13.00M B. Turner $3.55M C. Kirksey $6.00M
M. Crosby $2.50M L. Patrick $1.45M J. Jackson $1.33M

If the cap limit had been $135M in 2021, the Packers would have had to find at least $47M just to comply with the cap, plus more to sign some of its UFAs and RFAs.  The savings for all twelve players listed above totals $63.476 million.  That looks impossible to me.  A low salary cap like that would have forced the NFL and the Union to reach a new agreement, one that both sides needed.

If the 2021 salary cap turns out to be $175M, the Packers might be able to muddle through, though it would be ugly in 2022 and 2023.  They would need to save $7M to $13M to comply with the cap.  The Packers could save $15M to $19M by extending Adams and restructuing P. and Z. Smith using a very aggressive (that is, risky) contract structure with big cap hits in 2022 and 2023.  The team could move money around in Rodgers' contract and hope some young players make a few of these twelve players disposable.  I do not think it would be prudent and the team probably still would lose the majority of its free agents, but they might be able to keep one or two of the UFA and a few of the RFAs.  The Packers would have to be reasonably certain that revenues will be strong in 2021 (that most likely means that a viable vaccine is widely available and TV revenue negotiations are going well) so the salary cap increases significantly in 2022.    

Roster Size and Opt-Out Provisions

Teams can carry 90 players on the roster until August 16th, at which time they have to cut down to 80 players.  Teams can cut down to 80 right away if they wish.  The Eagles waived five players Saturday, so now their roster has 83 players.  The Packers waived Gerald Willis but it remains to be seen if waiving players is a trend or if that decision was specific to Willis' situation.  No more than 80 players can be inside a team's facility at any one time.  Teams are expected to split the players into two groups at different locations or time frames, but some teams might just waive ten players.  The Packers have Clark Hinkle Field and Ray Nitschke Field, and the stadium itself. 

The practice squad expands to 16 players.  Four players can be protected by each team from being poached by other teams.  Four players may have an unlimited number of accrued seasons (that is, they can be a ten-year veteran, for example). 

Players may opt out of the season.  If they are high risk (asthma, hypertension, sickle cell, etc.) they will receive a $350,000 stipend plus an accrued season.  If they are not high risk, the player will receive a $150,000 stipend, but not an accrued or credited season.  In either case, the player agrees to play in 2021 at his 2020 contract numbers (that is, the contract tolls).  It appears that stipends do not count against the salary cap.  Players must decide to opt out within 10 days of each side's approval of this deal, which would be by early August.  

Assuming they are eligible to opt out, I wonder if the player who is 90th on the pecking order will opt out to take the sure $150,000?  69 players will earn a place on the team (53 on the roster and 16 on the PS).  The practice rules would seem to make it harder for a long shot player to make the team (see below).  Even if a player makes the PS ($136,000 if the player is on it for 17 weeks), many do not stay on the PS all season and the season might be shortened.  Players do not receive base salary for games that are not played, but base salary that is not paid becomes guaranteed base salary in 2021.  There will be a fund if the player is a free agent in 2021.  Essentially, the player still gets the money but it is deferred. 

Will any player expected to make the roster decide to opt out despite the financial loss?  I think the opt-out provision is reasonable.  Expanding the practice squad and protecting four PS players is a small win for fans.    

Practice Schedule

The first four days are reserved for testing for COVID and virtual meetings (July 28-31).  Day 5 and 6 are for physical examinations and virtual meetings.  Day 7 - 15 (August 3-11) are for strength and conditioning, with at least one day off somewhere in that time frame.  Walkthroughs are allowed during these 8 practices.  Only QBs, LSs, kickers, punters and receivers can use footballs during this period.  Day 16 and 17 (August 12-13) can be in helmets and protective shirts.  No live contact.  Walkthroughs are allowed.   The practices on August 14 and August 16 will allow the use of  helmets, shells, and spiders.  No live contact is allowed, but practice can be at full speed.  Regular practices starts on day 21, August 17 and runs through September 6 (20 days minus off days).  During this phase, pads are allowed and normal practice rules pertain.  Teams can have a total of 14 padded practices.  Tom Pelissero spells things out here.  The first regular season game is on September 13.

Note that teams must cut down from 90 to 80 players by August 16th.  That means the bottom 10 UDFAs will have little opportunity to impress the coaches and GM.  They will have 10 walkthroughs and a four practices in shells/helmets/spiders, two at full speed but no contact.  They will have no padded practices and no live contact.  Coaches will be more limited in what they can do and it certainly seems like it would make installing offenses/defenses and integrating new players into those systems more difficult, though not impossible.

This might be reasonable in terms of player safety.  In terms of the quality of the product on the field, it is a loss for fans, but one that fans should understand since it is a necessary precaution.

Player Safety/Medical Protocols

There were reports a week ago that suggested players would be tested daily for the first two weeks of camp.  However, I have not found a source with which I am satisfied about the new medical and safety provisions finalized in this deal, so I am not going to write about this aspect of the deal.  I do know that players who test positive for COVID will be subject to the Non-Football Injury list, which just means that the team need not pay them anything.  Pay is very low during training camp anyway.  Players who contract COVID during training camp and during the season have to be paid. 

The big win for fans is that there is a possibility of a season in 2020.

 

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Comments (15)

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Turophile's picture

July 27, 2020 at 06:17 am

Good details TGR, thanks for the piece.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 27, 2020 at 06:33 am

I have read questions in the comments on other articles wondering about how testing is going to work and what happens if a player tests positive. I just haven't found the nuts and bolts answer.

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flackcatcher's picture

July 27, 2020 at 01:51 pm

Unless stated otherwise, HIPAA and rules about private information remain in effect. Along with whatever additional contract language was added or remove in regard to injuries etc. I suspect the only way we'll find out, if there is a mass infection event via a superspreader. Then the NFL PR machine will go into full overdrive.

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stockholder's picture

July 27, 2020 at 10:22 am

Trade Adams. 13mil? I see our best players moving on if we don't. Kirksey and Wagner at 10 mil.spent.?? The draft was the solution. Not Free Agency! Selecting a QB, RB,TE? I Understand things may work out. But which one helps us now? If we don't win the super-bowl fire Gute. Waiting hasn't worked since 2010.

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Guam's picture

July 27, 2020 at 07:54 am

Shocked and dismayed that the NFL did not want to average the salary cap over a period of 3-5 years to prevent a $25 million drop in the cap next year. The timing could not be worse for the Packers who were going to have a bad 2021 salary cap year anyway. Russ Ball is going to have to work some miracles to keep the Packers competitive.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 27, 2020 at 08:11 pm

It will be averaged over 4 seasons. I had hoped it would be 6 to 8, even over the life of the remaining years in the CBA. The owners apparently want to recoup their revenue losses more quickly.

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gkarl's picture

July 27, 2020 at 08:51 am

Well the Covid impact on SC will certainly make for some interesting roster decisions for the GBP and the rest of the NFL. That said I doubt you'll see any new FA additions TY or extensions signed by our FA until next year and the revenue situation is a little more clear than it is today.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 27, 2020 at 09:25 am

Apparently 14 members of the Florida Marlins have tested positive for Covid-19. I was never optimistic that the NFL could play this season, but I was getting more hopeful.

I gather that a player was tested on a Tuesday morning but the results were not available until sometime Thursday. I heard that players have not been wearing masks in the dugout and social distancing was not good. The teams shook hands after games.

One difference between baseball and the NBA is that baseball teams travel. The Marlins have cancelled two games. The Yankees are scheduled to use the visitor's locker rooms (the ones used by the Marlins) soon.

The Marlins played 3 days.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2020/07/26/marlins-delay-return-mi...

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CheesyTex's picture

July 27, 2020 at 11:22 am

Thanks, TGR, for a clear and understandable summary of the deal. Here's hoping greed doesn't kill the golden goose during the time CoVid-19 is disrupting revenue streams.

A question, please: If there is no NFL season this year, how will multi-year player contracts be handled? I.e,, if 2020 was to be year 4 of a 5 year contract will 2021 be counted as year 4 or year 5?

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michael562's picture

July 27, 2020 at 11:48 am

"playing time incentives will be prorated. If the player has an incentive for throwing for 4,000 yards, he has to throw for 4,000 yards whether the season is one game long or sixteen to earn the incentive. "

If it's prorated, wouldn't the 4000 yards be prorated to 250 yards per game played if there isn't complete 16 game season.

Asking for a friend...

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 27, 2020 at 08:36 pm

No. If AR had a $250K incentive if he throws for 4000 yards and only one game ends up being played, he has to throw for 4,000 yards against Minnesota (week one opponent) in order to earn the money/incentive. That would require a really, really, good game! Same with TD passes, rushing yards (Starks earned an incentive for gaining 600 yards a few years ago).

Assume Kirksey has an incentive for playing 75% of snaps on defense. If he plays 75% of the snaps against MN, then he would earn the money.

AR does have a $100K incentive (actually an escalator) for being in the top 3 in Passer Rating, INT %, TDs, Completion %, Yds/attempt. He earned $100K for the INT percentage in 2020. As a note, AR earned $350K more as escalators in 2020 for playing in 72.5% of snaps, playing in a Divisional round playoff game, and playing in a Conf. Championship game.

When I write that the Packers have to leave some money for IR/PUP and for paying incentives, consider that AR earned $450K in escalators altogether for his play in 2019, which will be paid in 2020. Kirksey has a $1M game active roster bonus but since he played only 2 games last year, only $125K currently counts against the cap. Additional money will count against the cap right away (not at the end of the year) as soon as Kirksey plays in a third game for GB this season.

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murf7777's picture

July 27, 2020 at 02:40 pm

We'll, most teams will have some struggles with the salary cap. All teams will be on a similar playing field. I suspect this is going to reduce future contract salaries. We are very fortunate to have a QB as good as Arod. Regardless of other players surrounding him, someone with his talent alone will help keep the team in the playoff hunt year in and out till this settles out.

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PatrickGB's picture

July 27, 2020 at 03:51 pm

That’s true Murf. But, what if the team already knew that Rodger’s cap number might cripple the team down the road if the cap stays almost the same or perhaps keeps dropping? The drafting of a first round QB may be the first step in preparation for a squad without Rodgers yet with a more manageable cap.

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murf7777's picture

July 27, 2020 at 06:07 pm

That is also true they may decide to go into a rebuild period and trade Rodgers after this year. The new salary cap whatever that becomes might dictate how teams react and move forward. Life in many ways as we knew it has changed with COVID-19.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

July 27, 2020 at 08:44 pm

The continuity also is helpful. On offense, GB has to integrate Ricky Wagner, Funchess (but there are options if he doesn't pick it up right away), Dillon (but there are options and RBs usually can play early) and Deguara. Not bad.

On D, GB has to integrate Kirksey (but he's played for Pettine before), Martin (but there are options, albeit unproven ones), and maybe Garvin, but he doesn't need to play much anyway (and Tim Williams and Greg Roberts are options).

It is Pettine's 3rd season in GB. Now LaFleur's system is only one year, so some time to fine tune it would have been helpful, but at least most of the offensive players have a year of experience in it. Continuity is a plus for GB under these practice rules.

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