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NFL players agree to new deal, opening way for 17-game season

NFL players have come to an agreement with the league over a new collective bargaining agreement, which opens the way for an increase in salaries while also ushering in a 17-game season.

The new agreement will run until 2030. Immediate impacts will see players receive higher minimum salaries, improved benefits and less severe punishment for marijuana use. Rosters will increase from 53 to 55 players for each team, meaning there will be 64 more jobs for players in the league in the 2020 season. The players’ share of league income will also rise from the current 47% to as much as 48.5% by 2021. The NFL’s revenue was around $15bn in the 2018 season.

While the players will be better off financially, they will now need to put their bodies under more strain. The regular season will increase from 16 to 17 games, a change which could come into effect as soon as 2021.

“We are pleased that the players have voted to ratify the proposed new CBA, which will provide substantial benefits to all current and retired players, increase jobs, ensure continued progress on player safety, and give our fans more and better football,” the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, said in a statement on Sunday.

The new agreement was passed by a vote of 1019-959 among the members of the NFL Players’ Association. NFL team owners had already voted to approve the deal last month. Several high-profile players, including Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and JJ Watt, did not agree with the deal. Rodgers has expressed his concern about the toll an additional game could take on players’ bodies. “A lot of us are wondering how the hell [the 17-game season] even got into the conversation,” the Green Bay Packers quarterback said earlier this month, “because nobody wanted it.”

The NFLPA executive director, DeMaurice Smith, acknowledged that not all of the union’s members supported the deal but said they would benefit overall.

“The current proposal contains increases across almost every category of wages, hours, working conditions and benefits for former and current players,” he said. “Like any contested negotiation … the proposal also reflects trades with the counterparty which have to be carefully weighed and assessed across the entirety of the deal. Please be confident that I hear loudly and clearly those of you who have passionately expressed their perspective that these gains are not enough when weighed against, for example, adding another game. That position reflects how some members have chosen to weigh what aspect of the deal is important to them.”

There are also likely to be two additional playoff spots for the new season, with 14 teams making the postseason. That change was suggested by team owners and did not have to be approved by the NFLPA.

The new NFL year starts on Wednesday, when teams and players can negotiate trades and free agency movement. There is a possibility the date could be changed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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