The NFL either is on the verge of a new fan-friendly look or the beginning of a rift between owners and players.
Owners voted Thursday (not unanimously) to accept the negotiated parameters of a new collective bargaining agreement that includes a 17-game regular season to be introduced in 2021 or 2022, fewer preseason games and immediate expansion to 14 playoff teams, The Post confirmed.
But, in doing so, they also applied pressure to the NFL Players Association by implying this is the final offer before the March 18 start of a new league year. That date acts as a soft deadline for both sides because the new CBA could replace the final year of the existing pact.
The NFLPA will hold a conference call Friday to discuss whether to move to vote by all players. A simple majority is needed to pass.
“Since the clubs and players need to have a system in place and know the rules that they will operate under by next week, the membership also approved moving forward under the final year of the 2011 CBA if the players decide not to approve the negotiated terms,” the NFL said in a statement.
Giants co-owner John Mara — chairman of the NFL executive committee — said he “can’t comment” as he left the Conrad New York hotel Thursday. Others also declined.
“No deal is finalized until the players vote,” NFLPA president Eric Winston wrote on Twitter.
One reason for the rush of “next week” is free-agency planning.
As a rule exception in the final year of the CBA, teams can use both the transition tag and the franchise tag, keeping two players off of the open market. Under a new CBA, teams only would be able to use one of those tags, as is the case in other years.
For example, the Cowboys would not be able to keep both quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper from free agency with tags. They would have to reach an agreement on a contract extension with one and risk losing the other in free agency.
If another team signs a franchise-tagged player (a one-year contract at an average of top-five salaries over the last five years), it must hand over two first-round draft picks. There is no compensation for losing a transition-tagged player (average of top 10 salaries). The original team can match any offer in either case.
Owners might still try to force through an extra playoff team and game in each conference for 2020 even without a new CBA, as first reported by The Washington Post. This could be interpreted as a threat.
The NFL tried expanding the schedule in 2014, but it fell apart against pushback from the NFLPA, which sees it as a work condition. Now, the union needs it as leverage.
Player salaries for the 17th game would be capped at $250,000, multiple reports said, so players earning more than $4.25 million per season under current contracts would be playing an extra game for less money than the first 16 in 2021 or 2022.
Owners would concede up to 48.5 percent of revenue to players under the proposal. Players who have spoken out are split on whether that revenue — an estimated increase of $2.5 billion-$5 billion over 10 years, based on the next television contract — is worth extra body damage in a safety-conscious era in which contact in practice will be further restricted, too.