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The NFL and the NFL Players Association are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, with ownership proposing two additional playoff teams and a 17 regular-season game. ESPN’s Adam Schefter wrote on Wednesday, “there is now mounting optimism it could be done sometime in the next week.”

Oh, really?

“I disagree with the 17 games,” Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette tweeted on Thursday.

“Hard no on that proposed CBA,” Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt tweeted hours later.

We already know why NFL players are against a 17-game regular season, seeing that it is nothing but a gateway to an 18-game season that would represent a 12.5% increase in the amount of regular-season football being played. The reason for the league’s optimism would be the ability to throw mountains of cash at the players.

As the NFLPA detailed in its memo to players highlighting “key terms” of the proposal, the NFL is offering a “guaranteed 48% share of revenue in 2021, with ability to increase the percentage to 48.5% share through a media kicker which applies in any season the league plays 17 games.” That would represent a “projected increase of ~$5 billion to players during course of a new 10-year deal.”

But what is $5 billion to players over 10 years? The easy math says it’s an average of $500 million per season. Broken down further, that’s about $15.6 million per team. Given 53-man rosters, it would be about $295,000 per player, per year, on average. Divided by 17, players are looking at a bump of, again, on average, just north of $17,000 per game.

Suddenly, that $5 billion doesn’t seem like so much. An extra chance to suffer debilitating injury, and guaranteed additional wear and tear… in exchange for a new economy car? Would you sell your soul for a Kia Soul? And it’s not even that, because only half of the increase to player pay would be coming from the “media kicker” resulting from the 17 game – and that’s just “ability to increase the percentage to 48.5%,” not a guarantee.

Meanwhile, the owners, who are so willing to give up this 1% to 1.5% of revenue in exchange for more football, rake in their own additional millions per year, while seeing the rookie minimum go up by a total of $510,000 over 10 years and veteran minimums rise $555,000 over the same period. With established players just a little more likely to shorten their careers, those lower-paid players’ wage increases do not match the projected $2.95 million uptick in average annual pay per player.

It’s easy to see where this goes: even heavier reliance on minimally-paid players to fill out rosters, while the really appreciable salary increases occur only for stars at the very top of the pay scale. All that while players in physical positions wind up playing shorter careers.

The NFL is optimistic because the NFL has always gotten its way. It may yet, because “projected increase of ~$5 billion” is a pretty dazzling thing. But football players have to know that if the league is trying to get this done quickly, it’s not because they’re giving their employees a great deal. The question that they’ll have to ask themselves when they vote is if they’ll wind up with an even worse deal if they don’t take this one.


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