A number of NFL owners hope the proposed collective bargaining agreement doesn't pass with the players because they believe they can negotiate a better deal, with eyes on an 18-game season in the future, a league source told ESPN on Saturday.
"They think they can get a better deal next year," said the source, who quantified the dissatisfied ownership group as more than a handful. "They feel they gave up too much on the economics."
The owners told commissioner Roger Goodell of their belief at an owners meeting in New York in February, the source said, citing frustration with the players' monetary increases and the increase in the size of active rosters.
The owners approved the proposed CBA last month, although ESPN reported at the time that the vote was not unanimous. Three-fourths of the owners had to approve the CBA for it to be ratified.
Players have until 11:59 p.m. ET Thursday to cast their votes on the proposed CBA via DocuSign. The CBA will pass if it receives a simple majority (50% plus one vote) of all ballots submitted. It would be in effect for the 2020 league year, with a possible move to a 17-game regular season coming in 2021 at the earliest.
If the CBA is approved, the NFL regular season could not be expanded past 17 games through the life of the deal, which would run through the 2030 season.
But a handful of owners want an 18-game season eventually, the source said, and that could come up in future negotiations if the players don't approve the CBA. A "no" vote from the players wouldn't necessarily scrap the framework of the current proposal, but items would then be open for negotiation. A separate source told Fowler that if the owners pushed for an 18th game at that point, it might force the players off the negotiating table completely.
ESPN reported in February that owners would not be receptive to renegotiating the current proposal.
Players such as Aaron Rodgers, Richard Sherman and Maurkice Pouncey have staunchly opposed the deal, which offers a revenue-sharing increase from 47% to 48.5% once the 17-game schedule kicks in. Some owners felt that increase was too generous, the source told Fowler.
In July, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith acknowledged that the NFL had raised the idea of an 18-game schedule in early negotiations, but he said he didn't see it happening.
"I don't see an 18-game schedule -- under any circumstance -- being in the best interest of our players," Smith said at the time. "If somebody wants to make an 18-game proposal, we'll look at it. I haven't seen anything that makes me think that it would be good for the players."
Among other issues some NFL owners have with the deal, the source said, are the game-day roster increase from 46 to 48 players; the expansion of the practice squad to 14 players in 2022; and the lack of a proposed cap for the highest-paid players (essentially a quarterback salary cap).
Minimum salaried players make up much of the NFL's working body, and since those players will see significant salary increases under the new deal -- second-year players rising from $495,000 to $675,000 next year, for example -- there is some feeling that the new deal will pass. But some NFL locker rooms are divided because those in opposition feel the concessions aren't enough to offset the lack of a 50-50 share or more long-term health benefits.