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By a close vote, with some 500 union members not participating, NFL players approved a new labor agreement with the league. It features a 17-game regular season, higher salaries, increased roster sizes and larger pensions for current and former players.

 

The deal, which runs through the 2030 season, was accepted by the 32 team owners last month. The NFL Players Association’s membership spent the last week voting on the 439-page document after its executive board narrowly rejected it by a 6-5 vote, and the player representatives voted 17-14 in favor, with one abstention.

 

Clearly, there was some strong player opposition to this collective bargaining agreement, though. Many stars, including Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, J.J. Watt and Todd Gurley, spoke out against it. The total vote, among the nearly 2,500 union members who participated, was 1,019-959.

Ratification required a simple majority — results were announced Sunday — and there could be lasting resentment among union members, given how close the vote was.

 

Almost immediately, players were urging unity, particularly in the face of the criticism from within their ranks about approving the deal.

 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, not surprisingly, praised the players’ acceptance of the new CBA.

 

After discussions with the union during the day, the NFL sent a memo to all teams Sunday night that the league will open the 2020 NFL business season on Wednesday, as scheduled, with free agency and trades. A delay had been considered a possibility is given league restrictions on travel as a safeguard against the new coronavirus.

 

There was no immediate word on timing and potential format changes for the draft, scheduled for Las Vegas from April 23-25, something that was also expected to be discussed by the NFL and NFLPA.

 

A 17-game schedule won’t happen before the 2021 season. The mechanics for an uneven number of games — neutral sites or which teams get nine home games — will be worked out in the interim.

The gains the players make in the new agreement in sharing “a bigger portion of the growing pie,” according to outgoing NFLPA President Eric Winston, swayed the vote.

 

The new deal includes a reduction of the preseason, initially from four games to three. More time off during training camps and upgraded pensions, with the addition of groups of previous players not included in past agreements.

 

Adding two playoff teams was not part of the bargaining process, but the owners were able to do so without union approval. That will occur this season, with only the top team in each conference getting a wild-card bye.

 

With labor peace for the rest of the decade, the NFL now will turn to negotiating new deals with its broadcast partners. Results of that, including digital media, should, as Winston mentioned, substantially grow the financial pie.

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