On Sunday, news broke that members of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) have approved the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The new CBA goes into effect immediately, remaining in force through the 2030 season.
Now that it is passed, how will it affect the Kansas City Chiefs?
Even though the NFLPA had provided all of its members the full 456-page contract as voting began, there was still a lot of confusion — so much so that some players who had already voted requested the NFLPA to allow them to change their votes. The NFLPA refused but did distribute a new document giving a summary of the changes as they compared to the 2011 CBA.
According to this summary, here are the high points:
No 17th regular-season game until 2021
It’s important to note that the extra regular-season game — one of the new deal’s most contentious features — will not be a reality at least until the 2021 season. The summary says, “17 regular season games as early as 2021,” but does not guarantee they will occur in that season — or even at all.
But since it will have a significant effect on television revenues (it would guarantee 16 additional game telecasts) it’s likely the league will do its best to add the additional game as soon as possible. In any season where a 17th game exists, the contract provides for a “media kicker” that increases the players’ share of league revenue by an additional 0.5% to 0.8%.
Postseason changes effective immediately
The changes to the postseason, however, will take effect in 2020. There will be just one team in each conference with a postseason bye. The team with the second-best record will play in the 18th week of the season against an additional Wild Card team — presumably the one with the weakest record.
Increase in team salary cap
Any calculations we can make about the team salary cap must be taken with a grain of salt. The cap depends on the exotic accounting of figures that are hidden from us. But we can still make some educated guesses of how the cap could change in 2020:
Back-of-the-envelope figuring based on 1) the historical increase in the salary cap under the 2011 CBA, 2) the players’ share of league revenue under that agreement (approximately 46.8%) and 3) the slightly higher 47% share they will receive under the new deal in 2020 suggest that if the CBA is approved, the total salary cap for each team would rise a bit less than $1 million over the $199 million figure sites like Spotrac and OverTheCap have been using to calculate 2020 cap space. (In the December league meetings, teams were informed that in 2020, the team salary cap allocation would be between $196.8 million and $201.2 million).
That’s not much.
But the NFLPA summary says the two additional postseason games in 2020 will provide around $150 million “additional revenue” to the league, resulting in an “estimated additional player cost of $70-$75 million.” It’s unclear if this would affect the salary cap in 2020 or 2021 — but if added directly to the team salary cap allocation for 2020, it could add around $2 million to the total cap space for all teams.
The problem is that the summary also says the “NFL will make [a] Legacy Payment of $64 million” in 2020 — presumably an increase in pensions and other benefits for former players. If that payment is coming from the additional postseason revenue, what is left would make little difference in the 2020 cap allocation.
So while passage of the CBA is likely to cause an immediate increase in the money that teams can spend in 2020, it might not be very significant — even for cash-strapped teams like the Chiefs.
In 2021, however, the salary cap could see a dramatic increase. The players’ share of league revenue will increase to at least 48% — perhaps as much as 48.8% if a 17th game is added to the schedule. Another back-of-the-envelope calculation shows the cap could increase to between $215 million and $220 million in 2021.
It’s even possible that new television deals — and the introduction of in-stadium gambling, a revenue stream that is guaranteed to be shared with the players under the new contract — could push the salary cap even higher.
With a new deal for quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the horizon, that would be very good news for the Chiefs.
Increases in minimum salaries
The perception has been that the league’s minimum salaries will substantially increase under the new CBA — and that’s true. But when the yearly increases in salary are calculated for each level of experience (and in each year of the contract) a somewhat different picture emerges.
2020 CBA Minimum Salaries
Over the life of the contract, minimum salaries for all players will rise at an average of 5.7% per year — which is roughly the same as the average increase in the salary cap during the term of the CBA now in force.
But we also see that the average increase in all experience levels drops from 13.8% in 2020 to 3.7% in 2030 — and that through each year of the deal, players with less experience will receive somewhat bigger increases than older veterans.
For the Chiefs in 2020, this means that every player now on a minimum contract will cost significantly more money — thereby reducing the amount of money they have available to make deals with big-salary players like defensive tackle Chris Jones.
Holdout rules change
Under the 2011 deal, a player under contract could choose to avoid training camp until 30 days before the first regular-season game. He could receive fines for each day he missed camp, but as long as he reported at least 30 days before the season began, he would still be eligible to earn an accrued season.
This is what Chris Jones did in 2019. Still under his rookie contract, he chose not to report to training camp until 30 days before the season began.
Under the new CBA, however, he wouldn’t have had that option — at least not without forfeiting the opportunity to earn an accrued season. The new deal requires a player under contract to report to training camp on time — or forfeit that accrued season.
In addition, the new deal prohibits teams from excusing any fines that have accumulated from missing training camp.
But Jones will be in a different situation in 2020. His contract will expire on March 18. If the Chiefs have placed a franchise tag on him, it will only be an offer for the team to pay him the designated franchise tag salary in 2020. If he has not signed that franchise tender, he will not be under contract with the team — and could therefore stage a training camp holdout. If he doesn’t sign that tender before Week 10 of the regular season, however, he still wouldn’t be able to earn an accrued season.
The Veteran Salary Benefit expands
In 2019, the Chiefs signed fullback Anthony Sherman to a one-year deal that paid him $1.02 million — but his cap hit was just $745,000. The Chiefs were able to do this because as a player with at least four years of NFL experience, Sherman qualified for the minimum salary benefit of the existing CBA, which allowed a player like Sherman to be paid the NFL minimum salary for his experience, but with the cap hit of a player with only two accrued seasons.
In the new CBA, it is now called the Veteran Salary Benefit — and it is being expanded so that up to two players on a team can be signed to similar one-year deals. We can expect Chiefs general manager Brett Veach to again be on the lookout for situations where he can use this tool to the team’s advantage.