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Agreements reached to allow football players to take the field

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Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It’s being widely reported this evening that the NFL and NFLPA have, after long negotiation, agreed to modifications in COVID testing, opt outs, salary cap and player salaries, among other issues, that will allow teams to proceed with the process of preparing to play the 2020 season.

COVID protocols

The COVID testing protocols have been in place for some time and were made public earlier in the week.

After two weeks, testing frequency guidelines will depend on the positivity rate. Should the test positivity rate drop below 5%, testing will be reduced to every other day. If the positivity rate climbs back to or surpasses 5%, daily testing will resume.

Players will also be required to test negative more than once before reporting to team activities.

In addition to players and coaches, medical staff, equipment staff, and strength and conditioning staff will be subject to these protocols.

Player opt outs

There had reportedly been agreement in principle earlier in the week about players opting out of the 2020 season, but final agreement was announced today. According to Ian Rappaport, there will be two tiers of players who opt out.

  • The top tier is for players who are determined to be “high risk”. They will get $350,000 for the year and will not play.
  • The second tier is for players who voluntarily opt out. They will get $150,000 for the year and will not play.

In both cases, the payments are treated as loans or advances on salary. Players who get this money will see their 2021 payments reduced by the same amount. If a player does not play in the NFL again, he will be required to repay the loan.

The first player to make the decision to opt out acted very quickly. According to Adam Schefter, Chiefs’ starting RG @LaurentDTardif is the first NFL player to opt out of his contract due to COVID-19. Duvernay-Tardif will not play this year and instead will continue to work as an orderly at a long-term care facility in Canada, helping fight COVID-19.

Duvernay-Tardif announced his decision publicly almost immediately after the agreement between the owners and players was announced. He said, in part:

Being at the frontline during this offseason has given me a different perspective on this pandemic and the stress it puts on individuals and our healthcare system. I cannot allow myself to potentially transmit the virus in our communities simply to play the sport that I love. If I am to take risks, I will do it caring for patients.

Salary cap and player salary issues

Another contentious issue is that of guaranteed money in the case of all or part of the 2020 season being cancelled. The final agreement is a bit complicated, but the bottom line is that players with guaranteed money will receive all of the pay that is guaranteed, but if the season is cut short, then they will not get the full amount this year; instead, they will have to wait until 2021 or later for the balance of the guarantees.

One agreement that will not be popular with players is that the Performance Based Pay benefit will not be paid for the 2020 season.

On salary cap, there had been a divide between the players, who wanted to spread any fall in revenue over the remaining ten years of the CBA, and the owners, who wanted to absorb it in the next three seasons, including asking players to defer money from the 2020 season. The compromise, according to Ian Rappaport is that the 2021 salary cap is guaranteed under the agreement of owners and union not to fall below $175m, with any remaining shortfall to be allocated to the four seasons from ‘21-’24.

This means that teams now know that the worst case cap outcome for next season will be a drop of just over $23m from this year. The Washington Football Team currently has one of the best cap positions in the league, with OverTheCap estimating current cap space at more than $36m, while division rivals are likely to find a drop in the ‘21 cap more difficult to deal with. The Eagles are currently projected to have the worst cap situation in the NFL next year (currently projected to be $54.2m over the cap in ‘21), and the Cowboys’ habit of signing starters to very long-term contracts gives them significantly less immediate flexibility than the Redskins, who have 26 players on the current roster who will be free agents next year, with most of the remaining players on rookie contracts or low cost veteran deals.

Ready to take the field

The bottom line is that the league and players union have made the compromises and agreements necessary to allow players to take the field for training camp with an eye towards kicking off the regular season on Thursday 10 September.

No doubt, the tumult that has marked 2020 so far will continue.