INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL and the NFLPA will continue to try to drag an imperiled collective bargaining agreement across the finish line Tuesday when a group of players and owners meet here at the NFL combine to go over details of the proposed deal.
The NFL's owners voted last week to approve the current CBA proposal, which is the result of 10 months of negotiating between players and owners. But enough players remain opposed to the idea of expanding the regular season from 16 to 17 games that they delayed their own scheduled vote Friday until after they had a chance to meet with the owners face to face.
"I'm looking forward to it," Packers president Mark Murphy said Monday on his way out of a competition committee meeting. "I remain optimistic. I think it should be a good discussion."
On Friday, the NFLPA's executive council voted 6-5 not to recommend the proposed CBA to its membership, and the conference call that ensued with the player reps did not result in a vote.
It remains to be seen what will come out of Tuesday's meeting, but the NFLPA said last week that it planned to hold a vote of its 32 player representatives once Tuesday's meeting was over. That vote would be held Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, and if a majority of the player reps agree to approve the deal, it would then be sent to a vote of all NFL players. A majority vote to approve in that event would mean the two sides have agreed to a deal.
It's not likely to be as simple as that, however. Sources familiar with the NFLPA's Friday conference call said it was feisty and at times contentious and that it seemed as if the voices opposed to the deal were carrying the day. Star veterans such as Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner were among the more vocal participants, those sources said, with Wagner challenging the five "yes" voters on the union's executive committee to explain why they liked the deal.
While some on the call spoke in support of the proposed deal, citing improvements in minimum salaries and benefits, an increased share of revenue for players from 47% to 48.5% and numerous benefits for former players, sources said the prevailing sentiment was that there was no rush to make a deal at this time. The current CBA expires in March 2021.
People close to the talks said it was an encouraging sign that owners agreed to meet with the players at all this week after they voted last week to approve the current proposal and to play the 2020 season under the current CBA rules if the players didn't. But no one seems to have a confident prediction on how Tuesday's meeting will go, or how the players' vote afterward will turn out.
Some players on Friday's call said they weren't satisfied with the minimum salary increases in the proposed deal, which would raise minimums by about 20% this year. The lowest-earning players would get a raise from their scheduled $510,000 to $600,000. But as has been the case throughout the talks, there are players who feel they should be insisting on a minimum of $1 million.
Another topic that was raised on Friday's call, and has been raised in conversations among the players before, was post-career health care. Currently, the NFL provides health care for players up to five years after they're out of the league, and players wanted to know why the current deal wouldn't extend that to 10 or even 15 years.
Overall, those opposed to playing 17 games in a season said they needed to be convinced owners were accurately estimating how much extra money they'd make from regular-season expansion and that there wasn't any more they could get from the owners' side in exchange for agreeing to 17 games. Tuesday's meeting offers the players a chance to talk directly with the owners, express their lingering concerns and potentially get answers to some of the questions they couldn't get answered on Friday's call.
While it's possible the owners are willing to offer more than is offered in the current proposal, it's worth noting that Thursday's owner vote to approve was not unanimous and that several owners -- even some who voted to approve the deal -- expressed concerns during Thursday's meeting that they were giving up too much. Significant changes to the deal as a result of Tuesday's meeting could result in the owners having to vote again, and it's difficult to predict which way that would go.
Owners would like to get the CBA done this offseason, even though it's got 13 months left on it, because they're interested in negotiating extensions to their TV network deals and would like to know they've secured 10 more years of labor peace as well as expansion of the regular season and playoffs before entering into those discussions. Some on the players' side believe that gives them more leverage than they feel they've exerted so far.
The league decided over the weekend to push back the window for applying franchise and transition tags by two days -- it now runs from Feb. 27 to March 12 -- to give teams time to figure out whether they'll be operating under new rules this offseason. If no new agreement is reached, 2020 will operate as the "Final League Year" under the current CBA and some rules will be different than they were in the previous nine years.
Teams would be allowed, for example, to use both the franchise and the transition tags this year, whereas in prior years they could use only one or the other. And teams would not be allowed to designate players as post-June 1 cuts for purposes of spreading dead-money cap hits out over two years.
The players' voting procedure seems to remain a bit of a moving target as well. After Friday's call, NFLPA sources said they planned to hold a vote of the full body of membership regardless of the outcome of the player representatives' vote. But on Monday, the NFLPA sent a memo to players saying a majority vote by the board of player reps would be necessary to move the process ahead to a full-membership vote.
Officially, according to the NFLPA's constitution, two-thirds of the board of player reps would need to vote to approve in order for it to be considered a recommendation of the deal. But the NFLPA believes it can move ahead to a full-membership vote without an official recommendation as long as the majority of player reps favor the deal.