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Thursday is huge as long-term CBA talks approach an uncertain conclusion

Roger Goodell Speaks At Preview Las Vegas Business Event Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images

While the Collective Bargaining Agreement might seem like a yawn-inducing topic to many fans, there is probably no single document aside from the NFL rules book that has more impact on the business of the NFL and the roster that fans see on the field every week.

The CBA sets significant parameters on the game, including eligibility, the draft, roster size, salaries, free agency, drug testing, off-season training, franchise tags, and much more. The current CBA is set to expire in about 13 months, and, for a number of reasons, it would be ideal to have the next agreement in place prior to the start of the new league year on March 18th.

Click here to read the Hogs Haven collection of articles about the CBA and player contracts

Earlier this week I wrote a short article about how the election of a new CBA president in March puts pressure on the owners and NFLPA to finalize an agreement in February.

The long-term and ongoing talks between owners and the player’s union have reached a critical point where the structure of the agreement is largely complete, but a number of significant obstacles have not been completely cleared — chief among them is the owners’ desire to move to a 17-game season. A recent article from Ian Rappaport and Tom Pelissero goes into some detail, saying that, while the owners are prepared to make a number of significant concessions, they have made them all contingent on agreement to a 17-game season.

The central issue throughout negotiations has been the revenue split, and players are expected to receive an uptick from the 47% of total revenue they are guaranteed under the current CBA, which was approved in 2011. The union has long hoped to achieve that increase without adding games, but the league has pushed all along for a lever that would allow them to add games as part of the next TV deal.

In a Jan. 16 memo to players, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith wrote: “The negotiations thus far have proceeded with the NFL conditioning proposed increases in economics and other improvements on a potential 17 game model, with reduced preseason games and potentially an expanded playoff schedule.”

Smith’s memo confirmed the sides have reached tentative agreements on numerous issues, including increased guaranteed revenue to players, increased minimum salaries, reduction of contact during training camp, decreases in fines for on-field conduct and significant modifications to the drug policy. But the sides remain apart on other issues, including maximum revenue split, minimum cash spend requirements, the continuation (and ultimately increase of) the NFLPA Legacy fund that increased pensions for pre-1993 players, removing the escrow requirement/funding rule as a barrier to guaranteed contracts, rules on first-round picks and restricted free agents, and an NFL-proposed liability waiver.

It seems clear that the form of the next agreement, as it stands now, would be very similar to the 2011 document, with players getting a bigger piece of a bigger pie, and owners enjoying the increased revenue and market opportunities that will come with a prolonged regular season and post-season in conjunction with a shortened pre-season.

The other concessions that the owners appear to have already made to players have been widely discussed over the past several months and are not surprising.

The number of items listed in the article that remain unresolved may look daunting, but, I suspect, would all disappear in a flash if the NFLPA were to concede the expansion of regular season and playoffs.

With the election upcoming in March, and crunch time arrived, the NFLPA leadership in the form of its president, Eric Winston and the 11-man executive committee, is set to meet on Thursday this week “to discuss the status of collective bargaining talks and get the board’s input on how to proceed.”

The results of that meeting will be critical in the final negotiations that should happen in Miami during the Super Bowl weekend.

But consensus in the executive committee won’t be enough to finalize a new collective bargaining agreement. Per the article:

Under the NFLPA’s constitution, the 11-man executive committee, led by president Eric Winston, is responsible for negotiating a new CBA and making a recommendation to the board with the best offer. The board of 32 reps (one for each club) then votes, with two-thirds of [them] needing to vote to approve the deal before it is passed to all dues-paying players, who must ratify by a simple majority.

The executive committee has not yet made any such recommendation, per sources. One source said it’s possible the board could bring a proposal on a new collective bargaining agreement to all players after the meeting; another source called that a “dream scenario” that is unlikely.

While NFLPA seem to have made inroads on a deal that is likely to give its members much of what they want, like all negotiations, it will come at a price. The owners have been very clear about what they want, and it’s not at all certain that the 3-step process of approval by the executive committee, the 32 player reps, and then the player’s union membership will go smoothly. Once the league takes the step towards expanded regular season and post-season, there is probably no turning back, and there are a lot of voices in opposition.

Some players — including 49ers receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who played 17 regular-season games this year because of a midseason trade — have already spoken out strongly against it. So the NFL must make it worth their while, financially and otherwise, or else players opposed could band together and try to block it.

It seems as if the owners have drawn a line in the sand. History tells us that the owners will likely prevail in the end — they are, after all, a much more resourced, experienced, united and powerful group than the ever-changing blend of 20 and 30-somethings that comprise the player’s union.

Still, nothing can be taken for granted, and this week will be critical in shaping the next decade and beyond of NFL football.