By a narrow margin, NFL players have ratified a new collective bargaining agreement that runs through the 2030 season, assuring labor peace in the league for the next decade.
NFL owners approved the new CBA Feb. 20 and sent the 456-page proposal to players to vote. A simple majority was needed to pass it.
"We are pleased that the players have voted to ratify the proposed new CBA," Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement, "which will 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."
The NFL Players Association reported that the new CBA passed by a vote tally of 1,019-959.
"This result comes after a long and democratic process in accordance with our constitution," the NFLPA wrote on Twitter. "An independent auditor received submitted ballots through a secure electronic platform, then verified, tallied and certified the results."
The new CBA includes the expansion of the playoffs from six to seven teams in each conference, beginning in 2020, and an increase in regular-season games from 16 to 17, starting in 2021 at the earliest.
The new playoff format will add one extra game in each conference during wild card weekend, with the second seed hosting the seventh seed. In the past, the top two seeds had a first-round bye. But now only the No. 1 seed in each conference will earn the first weekend off.
This is the first time the NFL playoff field has expanded since it went from 10 to 12 teams in 1990.
In addition to the regular-season schedule expanding to 17 games, every team will play one fewer preseason contest. The slate of Thursday night games the fourth week of the exhibition season will be eliminated, giving every team a bye week in advance of their regular-season opener.
This is the first time the NFL regular season has expanded since it went from 14 to 16 games in 1978.
There are several other key changes in the new CBA:
• The percentage of league revenue the players receive will increase from 47 to 48 in 2021, with the ability to increase to 48.5 through a media kicker that applies in any season the league plays 17 games. The total increase is expected to be $5 billion to players during the course of the 10-year agreement.
• Minimum salaries for rookies, which were $610,000 in 2019, will increase $100,000 in 2020, $50,000 in 2021 and $45,000 each year after that, while minimum salaries for non-rookies will increase at least $90,000 in 2020, $80,000-$105,000 in 2021 and $45,000 each year after that.
• Players on teams that have byes in the first-round of the playoffs will get paid for that week whereas they did not in the past.
• Active rosters will increase from 53 to 55 and game-day rosters will increase from 46 to 48, with the requirement that one of those players is an offensive lineman. Two practice-squad players may be elevated to the active roster each week, and players can be returned from the active roster to the practice squad twice during a season without having to go through waivers.
• Practice squads will increase from 10 to 12 players in 2020 and from 12 to 14 players in 2021. In addition, practice-squad players will receive raises to $10,500 per week.
• Changes to training camp will include the introduction of a five-day acclimation period, a 2.5-hour limit on padded and full speed practices, and a limit of 16 days in pads. In addition, teams will be required to have a three-day weekend at the end of camp when the 17-game schedule is implemented, give players two days off the first week and one day off every seven thereafter, and have a maximum of four joint practices if they play three preseason games.
• Fifth-year options for first-round picks—beginning with those chosen in 2018—will be fully guaranteed. In the previous CBA, the fifth-year option was only guaranteed in the event of injury.
• An improvement in working conditions will be implemented, including mandated improvements to visiting locker rooms, the establishment of standards for rehabilitation facilities, training rooms and equipment for each team and the development of improved safety metrics for fields.
• For active players, their pensions will increase by 10 percent, their 401k matching contribution will increase to $30,000 with annual increases thereafter, and vision coverage will be added to their healthcare plan.
• Former players will receive a retroactive increase to $550 per month for all pre-2012 vested players, pension eligibility will expand to all former players with three credited seasons, and a new network of hospitals in each team city will be created for former players to receive no-cost physicals, preventative care, mental-health counseling and outpatient orthopedic services.
• Players will be paid over 34 weeks instead of the current 17 weeks.
• A neutral-decision maker will replace Goodell for most discipline cases. There will also be a reduction in club fines.
• The drug-testing window for marijuana will shrink from four months to two weeks at the start of training camp, penalties to players who test positive for marijuana will be reduced, including the elimination of game suspensions strictly for positive tests.