Now that training camps and pre-season football are in full swing, all the acrimony and uncertainty of the summer's negotiations and legal battles are nothing more but a distant memory. For the most part, football fans can forget the whole thing ever happened, and get on with discussed player moves, who looks good, who doesn't, and so on and so forth. But you should be concerned with the result of all those negotiations-a brand new Collective Bargaining Agreement that will govern how the NFL works for the next ten years.
The new Agreement is roughly similar to the old one in structure and many of its terms, but there are numerous differences that have a real effects on how teams will operate. What I'm going to do is break down some of these provisions and talk about how they'll affect things in the future. I'm not going to analyze the entire document-it's 318 pages long and much of it doesn't really concern the everyday fan. If you have any questions about areas that I don't cover here, just ask in the comments and I'll do my best to clear it up.
Scope of the Agreement
The CBA covers all relations between the NFL and its players. The agreement will remain in effect for 10 full years, meaning we won't have to revisit any of these issues until the 2021 offseason. Unlike previous CBAs, there are no opt-outs for either side. The agreement is essentially the law of the land for a minimum of 10 years, and nothing can change that.
Rookie Draft and Compensation
The structure and conduct of the draft remain essentially unchanged. The biggest change here is the introduction of a rookie wage pool which operates to limit the amount of money offered to rookie draft picks. There is now a Total Rookie Compensation Pool, which limits the total amount of money all teams can spend combined on draft picks. For 2011, the Pool is $874.5 million. There's also a pool for Year One of rookie contracts, which again will limit the total amount of money teams can offer draft picks in the first year of their contract. The 2011 Year One Pool is $159 million. Each club gets an individual allocation of that pool, which they cannot exceed to sign their draft picks. The amount of the pools will increase or decrease from year to year at the same rate as the overall salary cap.
Further, the new CBA provides a set structure for rookie contracts, whether drafted or undrafted. Remember back before the 2009 season when Kevin Ellison, a 5th rounder, tried to hold out and prevent an extra year from being tacked on to his rookie contract? That is now a thing of the past. The length and structure of rookie contracts are now set in stone and cannot be negotiated. First round draft picks receive four year contracts, with a fifth year as a team option. The option year has to be exercised by the team after the end of year three, but before the start of year four. Draftees taken in rounds 2 through 7 receive four year contracts, period. Undrafted free agents get three year contracts, period.
Another big change is restrictions on contract renegotiation. In the past, if a player is an immediate star, they sometimes feel they have outperformed their rookie contracts and will either hold our or threaten to hold out in order to receive a new payday. Now, rookies cannot renegotiate their contracts until they have a certain amount of service time. Drafted players need three years, and undrafted players need two.
We are all familiar with hold outs. The player doesn't feel that his contract adequately compensates him for the production he provides on the field, so he refuses to report to the team until the organization agrees to re-negotiate his deal. We've already discussed the new prohibition against renegotiation by rookies without enough service time. But the CBA also throws in another provision increasing the risk for players who want to hold out. Now, if a player fails to report to his team a minimum of 30 days before their first regular season game, the entire season will not count towards his service time. That means that players such as Vincent Jackson and Logan Mankins would no longer be able to hold out for 60% of a season, then report and still get a year towards free agency. If they aren't on the roster a month before game 1, they lose the whole season no matter when they report. This just recently went into effect for Chris Johnson of the Titans-he's holding out for a new deal and did not report 30 days before the first game, so he now loses the entire 2011 season for his service time.
Veteran Free Agency
The rules for unrestricted free agency are mostly the same as they have been in the past. The new CBA provides that four years of service time are sufficient for a player to become an unrestricted free agent, just as the rules were before the weird 2010 season. There is a little, interesting wrinkle however. If an unrestricted free agent does not sign a new contract by July 22, his old team can tender him a 1-year deal worth 110% of his previous year's salary. That player then becomes prohibited from signing with any other team for the rest of the year. If he doesn't sign his tender by two days after Week 10, he is then prohibited from playing at all for the rest of the year. If his old team doesn't tender him, then he remains free to sign with any other team for the entire year.
Franchise and Transition Tags
The rules of the franchise and transition tags are unchanged. Despite attempts by the players to institute limits on the number of times one player can be franchised, there remain none. Transition tags remain useless.
The rest of the changes and modifications between the old system and the new have to do with the intricacies of the salary cap, insurance, injury and non-injury grievances, player discipline, etc. The things I outlined above are the changes that most affect the ability to put a team on the field, and things that concern fans the most. Again, if there is something more you have a question about, please ask in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.