NFL players approve labor deal with 17-game season, expanded playoffs coming soon

Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson sprints by a Buffalo Bills defender. ( Getty Images )

NFL players have approved a new labor agreement with the league that features a 17-game regular season, higher salaries, increased roster sizes and larger pensions for current and former players.

The deal, which runs through the 2030 season, was accepted by the 32 team owners last month. The NFL Players Association's membership spent the last week voting on the 439-page document after its executive board narrowly rejected it by a 6-5 vote, and the player representatives voted 17-14 in favor, with one abstention.

Clearly, there was some strong player opposition to this collective bargaining agreement, though. Many stars, including Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, J.J. Watt and Todd Gurley, spoke out against it. The total vote among the nearly 2,500 union members who participated was 1019-959.

Ratification required a simple majority.

The 2020 NFL business season begins March 18 with free agency and trades. A 17-game schedule won't happen before the 2021 season. The mechanics for an uneven number of games -- neutral sites or which teams get nine home games -- will be worked out in the interim.

Extending the season was a nonissue with the players in 2011, when the current 10-year deal was finalized after a 4 1/2 month lockout. But the gains they make in the new agreement in sharing "a bigger portion of the growing pie," according to outgoing NFLPA President Eric Winston, swayed the vote this time.

Among those gains:

-- An increase from the 47% of league revenues given to the players, with that percentage dependent on the length of the season.

-- A reduction of the preseason, initially from four games to three. More time off during training camps.

-- Upgraded pensions, with the addition of groups of previous players not included in past agreements.

-- Two more roster spots per team, from 53 to 55; that's 64 more jobs. 

-- Larger practice squads with fewer limitations on movement of those players.

-- Narrowing the testing period for players for marijuana use, plus lowered discipline for using it; and a reduction in on-field fines.

Adding two playoff teams was not part of the bargaining process; the owners can do so without union approval. That is expected to occur this season, with only the top team in each conference getting a wild-card bye.

With labor peace for the rest of the decade, the NFL now will turn to negotiating new deals with its broadcast partners. Results of that, including digital media, should, as Winston mentioned, substantially grow the financial pie.