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2 major sticking points now stand in way of 2020 NFL season. Yes, money is a big one.

Charles Robinson
·NFL columnist
·7-min read

As the NFL and players union continue to hammer out what essentially amounts to a one-season collective bargaining agreement for 2020, sources on both sides of the negotiating aisle told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday night that two significant hurdles remain to getting football back on track in the coming weeks: A financial agreement on how and when players will share in the burden of inevitable revenue shortfalls and a set of guidelines that would cause individual teams — or the entire league — to be shut down by COVID-19.

For the season to kick off in September, both of those issues have to be resolved.

A league source close to the negotiations expressed optimism at the progress in talks, while a union source told Yahoo Sports that 99 percent of health and safety issues have reached some common ground. However, both sources agreed independently that a stoppage prior to the season’s kickoff still hangs in the balance if the two sides can’t agree on the sharing of revenue loss, as well as what could trigger the league to halt or shorten the 2020 season.

DeMaurice Smith speaks at the podium during the annual state of the union news conference.
Union director DeMaurice Smith and the NFLPA are trying to reach a deal with the NFL over how the sides will tackle revenue shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

If NFL season is halted in 2020, how much will players be paid?

On finances, the NFL and union have taken opposing stances on how players should share in the burden of revenue loss. Both have expressed a need to find a resolution somewhere in the middle.

First, the finances:

If a season should be halted or shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic, the league’s team owners want player salaries to be adjusted according to the number of weeks in the 17-week slate that are in the books at the time of the stoppage. Essentially, in the NFL’s view, player salaries would be paid according to the prorated amount of the regular-season games that took place during the season.

The NFL Players Association has conversely taken the stance that collectively bargained language guarantees players will be paid in full regardless of the number of games played once the 2020 season kicks off.

Multiple sources across the spectrum of the league, including some team executives, say that if an agreement can’t be reached prior to a stoppage during the season, the NFL could choose to stop paying players from the moment games are halted. That would most likely leave the matter to be resolved in a long court battle.

For such a contentious situation to be avoided, both sides will need to agree to a middle ground on what happens with players’ salaries if a stoppage occurs.

How much will next salary cap drop? $40 million vs. $70 million

Another pressing financial issue is how the two sides will spread out the potential revenue shortfall that could cripple the 2021 salary cap. As it stands, even the projections from each side aren’t close, with the NFL putting the potential cap loss in 2021 at $40 million per team, while the union has said that number could be as high as $70 million per team.

Whatever the loss, the two sides have not been able to agree on how to spread out the hit. As of Wednesday, the NFL had proposed spreading the hit out over three seasons (2021-2023). The union has proposed spreading the loss out evenly over nine seasons (2021-2029).

This variance continues to be one of the biggest impediments to getting a deal finalized, leading some frustrated franchise owners to suggest in negotiations that it needs to be remedied prior to the Tuesday full-squad training camp kickoff, or teams should decline to allow players to report on that day. Both sides expressed doubt to Yahoo Sports that an agreement on the spreading of lost revenue would be complete by Tuesday, leaving club owners to make a decision about starting camp on time or delaying it to continue working on finances.

Harrison Butker kicks the extra point as Dustin Colquitt holds during Super Bowl 54 against the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 2, 2020.
The Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl in February will be the last NFL game played until at least September. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

What has to happen to trigger 2020 NFL season stoppage?

Regarding the potential stoppage of a season:

As of Wednesday, neither the NFL nor the union had come to an agreement on what would trigger the stoppage or shortening of the 2020 season. A source from the union told Yahoo Sports that the NFLPA has requested the stoppage or shortening guidelines in written form in hopes of erasing ambiguity about standards while also preventing the NFL from “creating” scenarios as the season progresses.

A league source from the NFL said arbitrarily creating hardened guidelines for “unknowable” scenarios is virtually impossible, particularly when the advice of the league’s medical advisers could change over the the coming months.

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As the league source framed it, “There are any number of scenarios that could present themselves that teams can’t see right now, and [the union] can’t see the future, either. It’s not a matter of being evasive. It’s a matter of being flexible. It’s important to be fluid [based on] what the medical experts say in real-time — which is what we’re doing every week, by the way.”

The league is expected to brief team owners on the latest progress in talks before the weekend, while the NFLPA held a call with some of its membership on Wednesday night.

The union also issued a memo to player agents where it spelled out the progress in talks.

The email, which a source shared with Yahoo Sports, read:

Dear Contract Advisors,

We continue to negotiate with the NFL owners over health protocols, contract protections, and salary cap issues.

Regarding our health protocols, we are glad to inform you that we have worked together with the NFL to implement the safest standards for our men. As you have heard, there will not be a preseason game. Additionally, we have agreed to strong testing, tracing, and treatment protocols, and we are finalizing an acclimation period. These measures reflect implementation of recommendations from third-party scientific experts aimed at keeping everyone as safe as possible during this pandemic.

On the contractual and CBA operations front, we continue to push the NFL for agreement on strong opt-out options for players, as well as determinations on stipends and treatment of player contracts if the season is canceled. We believe every player has the right to not only make an informed decision on his future, but also to have all the facts before committing themselves and their families to a decision regarding the most unique football season in history. We will be getting that information out to our leadership, our players and to you as soon as it is finalized.

Finally, there are the issues of overall economics, revenue sharing, and salary cap implications. Our proposal is designed to take advantage of the multi-year term of the CBA to mitigate the losses that will affect all aspects of our business. We do not believe it makes sense for any stakeholders to be forced to manage potentially massive fluctuations in the cap this year and next when we have mechanisms available to us that can smooth the inevitable short-term decrease in revenues over time.

We will continue to update you as negotiations progress, or not.

Thank you for all you do for our players,

DeMaurice Smith
JC Tretter
NFLPA Executive Committee

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