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More than one deadline looms for the signing of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement

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Russell Okung appears ready to throw a monkey wrench into the process if he can

Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons, NFL Week 5 Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

I’ve written a few times in recent weeks and months about the looming deadline for the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Just a few weeks ago, I discussed some of the potential impacts we could see if a new agreement isn’t finalized sometime in February. While the current agreement runs for another year (until March 2021), entering the final year of the agreement without a new agreement in place will trigger a number of provisions that will make the 2020 NFL year a bit different from what we’ve grown used to in recent seasons. These issues, however, are all technical, and tied to the language of the agreement itself.

A second, and perhaps more concerning factor looms on the near horizon, making the finalization of an agreement in February seem even more urgent for owners, and for the current leadership of the NFLPA. Reports have indicated that negotiations have been amicable and positive, and that the only thing keeping the agreement from being finalized at this point is the owners’ desire to negotiate a change to a 17-game regular season.

You see, in March, there will be an election for the NFLPA leadership. Because the current president of the players association, Eric Winston, hasn’t played in the past two seasons, he is not eligible to run for reelection. The first player to throw his hat into the ring is Russell Okung, who not only is on the record as being opposed to a 17-game season, but has been actively speaking out in support of taking more of a hard-line bargaining position with the owners.

Okung’s election — if it happens before the finalization of a new labor deal — could set the process back to square one or close to it. Currently, the NFL and NFLPA are negotiating a contract based on a 17-game regular season. As one source explained it earlier this month to PFT, if the 16-game season were continuing, an agreement already would be completed.

Okung not only wants to push hard against 17 games but also desires to take a more combative approach to the relationship with league owners.

“Are we in an equitable agreement with management?” Okung told Belson. “Right now, the answer is no. This will take as long as it needs to.”

There is, of course, no guarantee that Okung will be elected in March, but, whether he is or not, there will be a change in the NFLPA leadership. NFL owners, if they want some level of certainty in the outcome of the bargaining process, will need to finalize the agreement with players (led by current president Eric Winston) before the NFLPA leadership election is held in March. This narrows the time frame for announcing a finalized agreement to the three-weeks or so between the Super Bowl and the end of February.

The owners and front offices will want the new agreement in place prior to the start of the new league year and free agency on 18 March. A new agreement would provide greater certainty with regard to salary cap and a number of other key issues. It would also, if recent reports are accurate, include arrangements for the league extend the regular season to 17 games, likely in conjunction with a reduction in the number of preseason games.

Opponents of a 17-game season are likely to see the best opportunity to prevail coming in the form of a delay of the finalization of a new CBA, since the electon of Russell Okung (or another candidate) could set the negotiation right back to square one.

The next few weeks should be critical for the shape of the business of the NFL in the coming decade.