Caveat emptor: NFL players should think twice about signing on the dotted line of this CBA

By Aaron Rice
March 13, 2020

The proposed collective bargaining agreement is finally in the hands of some 2,000 players, who have until Saturday at 11:59 pm ET to vote on a deal that would govern the NFL and ensure labor peace until March of 2031.

The big issues in the proposed agreement are a 17th game, new playoff expansion and a minimum wage increase. NFL owners have already approved the terms for the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement, but the players appear to be unsure.

People with knowledge of the negotiations told CNBC one of the holdups centered on the new 17-game format, which had capped payment at $250,000 per player. After a meeting at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last week, owners agreed to drop the cap, leading to the NFLPA’s board to vote 17-14-1 to send to union members.

Under the new terms, players would receive 47% of league revenue, which The Wall Street Journal reported amounted to roughly $16 billion over the last year. The player share increases to 48% in 2021, and 48.5% if a 17th regular season game is added.

DeMaurice Smith had only been on the job for two years at the time of the current CBA’s implementation. Before his election to sports labor’s most high-profile job, and with virtually no experience in sports labor law, many opined that the leader of the NFLPA was taken advantage of by the league’s billionaire owners, who negotiated to receive 53% of qualified revenue for a decade. With opinions about this CBA so divided, one more “illegal procedure” call and Smith could see the end of his tenure as NFLPA director. 

Some key data confirms what many insiders understood. The NFL’s rich got richer and the NFL’s working man did not.

Between 2000 and 2011, the average NFL team value increased by 7.7% CAGR ($423 million - $1.036 billion).

Since the owner-friendly CBA deal in 2012, the average NFL franchise has increased by 13.5% CAGR ($1.036 billion - $2.86 billion).

Between 2000 and 2011, the average NFL salary rose from $1.16 million to $1.9 million, for a CAGR of 4.2%.

By 2019, the average NFL salary stood at $2.7 million, a 4.5% CAGR, but a far cry from the owners’ 13.5% compounded annual growth rate for valuation.

You can read more about NFL team valuations here.

Even more illustrative of how bad this deal was for the players, the mean NFL salary, a more relevant statistic to the rank and file of the league, saw an increase from 2012-2019 of just 1.4%, not even keeping up with CPI or inflation (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

A lot of players, reps, and pundits are asking, “hey, what’s the rush” to sign a new 10-year deal a full season before the old deal expires?” Clearly, if history is any indication, we know why the owners can’t wait for the ink to dry on this CBA. With an average NFL career now lasting just 3.3 years, caveat emptor is the appropriate guidance before putting pen to paper.

This appeared in Forbes on March 13, 2020.


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