How will new agreement change NFL?

BY Alex Marvez • July 25, 2011

It’s over.

After a painstaking labor impasse that spanned more than four months, the NFL finalized a new 10-year Collective Bargaining Agreement with its players Monday in Washington, D.C.

Besides securing the league’s long-term financial future, the NFL will undergo major procedural changes for the 2011 season and beyond. Here is a question-and-answer look at what fans can expect:

Q: How soon will training camps open?

A: As reported by NFL insider Jay Glazer, players can begin reporting to team headquarters Tuesday to vote upon the NFLPA’s recertification as a union. Although considered a formality, such approval is a necessary for the CBA to become effective. A majority vote of 1,900-plus players is needed for recertification.

Each team can open training camp 15 days before its first preseason game. However, practices cannot begin in earnest until the CBA is ratified. That could take as long as August 4. Teams are already mandated to only hold meetings on the first day of camp and walk-through sessions on days two and three.

Only one padded practice will be allowed each day during the preseason. Even greater restrictions on contact were approved for the regular season. Teams can only hold 14 padded practices, 11 of which must come within the first 11 weeks of the season. Players also must receive four consecutive days off during a bye week.

Q: How will free agency work?

A: Teams are allowed to make trades and begin signing all rookies – the draft class and undrafted players – starting at 10 a.m. ET Tuesday. Teams also can begin negotiating with all pending free agents, including those from other teams. Contracts can be signed starting at 6 p.m. ET Friday. But until the CBA is ratified, those players cannot practice and will not receive any contract payments. Signed rookies also will not get paid but can sign an injury waiver with financial protection to participate in practice.

Clubs can begin waiving players and terminating contracts at 4:01 p.m. ET Thursday. Ninety players can be on the active roster during the preseason, an increase of 10 from the previous CBA, but the final total of 53 remains in place for the regular season.

Unlike in 2010, only four credited NFL seasons are required for players to become eligible for unrestricted free agency. Teams can continue to use franchise and transition tags like in the previous CBA.

Q: How will the salary cap system work this season?

A: The cap for player salaries will stand at roughly $120.4 million. Teams must spend 99 percent of that amount (about $119 million) for the 2011 season, which is a much higher rate than in the previous CBA. The same 99-percent figure stands for the 2012 campaign.

Q: Will there be a rookie wage scale?

A: Yes, but some early picks will be allowed to test the free-agent market quicker than in the past.

All first-round selections can sign a contract no longer than four years in length. Teams will have an option to extend the contract for a fifth year but must provide notice of that intention before the players’ fourth season begins. NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said there will be a two-tiered fifth-year compensation system for players drafted between Nos. 1 and 10 and Nos. 11 and 32.

“It will be at a fixed but substantial price,” Pash said.

Players drafted between rounds two and seven will receive four-year contracts. Undrafted college players can sign three-year deals. Total signing bonuses for a team’s entire undrafted rookie class now stands at $75,000 after being uncapped in the previous CBA. That figure will grow exponentially with the overall salary cap.

There also will be substantial changes to the overall rookie salary pool that should prevent the massive contracts being signed by recent early picks like St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford, who received a six-year deal with $50 million guaranteed.

“This is a much more tightly drawn system,” Pash said. “There is an absolute ceiling on the number of dollars that can be paid in any one draft class, which was not the case before. There are agreed upon limitations on what kind of contract clauses can be written so you don’t have people evade the rookie pool like in the old system. But it preserves the key thing from what we were told was the key thing for the players — mainly the right to continue individually to negotiate compensation within that system.”

The savings from rookie salaries will be used to fund retired player benefits and performance-based pay bonuses for veterans. There is no performance-based pay system in 2011 with the money instead folded into the overall salary cap.

Q: What is the status of the 18-game regular season?

A: The current format (16 regular-season and four preseason games) will remain for at least the next two seasons. The NFL and NFLPA can negotiate the implementation of an 18-game slate starting with the 2013 campaign.

Q: Will the personal conduct policy remain in place and can NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspend players who ran afoul of it during the lockout?

A: Yes. That could be bad news for players who were arrested during the offseason like Tennessee wide receiver Kenny Britt and two repeat offenders who play for Cincinnati (cornerback Pacman Jones and running back Cedric Benson).

“Violations of law are covered by the personal conduct policy,” Pash said. “We believe that policy remains in effect and the commissioner’s authority is undiminished by this agreement.”

Q: What is the status of the NFL’s drug-testing program?

A: Until the NFLPA reforms as a union, the NFL cannot collectively bargain for a drug-testing program with the players. If/when that happens, Pash is optimistic that a revamped policy will be adopted that includes “some improvements, strengthening, and procedural and administrative improvements that the players were looking for.” The NFL had pushed to test for human growth hormone as part of the new CBA.

Q: How will retired players benefit from the new CBA?

A: The NFL and NFLPA will pledge between $900 million and $1 billion over the next 10 years to fund additional benefits. That includes $620 million to create a “Legacy Fund” to improve pensions for those who played before the 1993 season when the first CBA with a far better retirement plan was adopted. Another $50 million a year will jointly fund medical research, health-care programs and NFL/NFLPA charities.

Current players will have the chance to remain in the NFL’s medical plan for life after retiring. A player also could collect as much as $1.5 million of their contract if suffering a career-ending injury.

Q: How will revenue sharing between the teams work?

A: In hopes of making it easier for smaller-market teams to meet the new salary spending requirements, Pash said team owners have agreed to a system that would be based upon local revenue.

“It addresses more of the clubs that are on top of the revenue scale,” Pash said. “It will be a pro rata type of funding rather than what we had in the old system where if you ranked in a certain area you would pay this much, this much and this much. It’s more finely tailored to individual clubs.

“In the old system, you were eligible if you had player costs that were greater to or equal to 65 percent of your revenue. Here, that’s going to go down to 63 percent beginning in 2013. There’s greater sharing, if you will, in that respect and clubs will have greater opportunities to narrow the disparities.”

NFL revenue sharing was a major discussion among team owners Thursday before they approved the CBA.

Q: How long will the current CBA last?

A: It is a 10-year agreement that runs through the 2021 college draft. There are no clauses that allow for either party to end the CBA early like in the previous pact. Messy labor disputes like the one that has transpired for four-plus months also will no longer be settled in court but through neutral arbitrators agreed upon by both parties.

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