The NFL and the NFL Players Association are said to be making progress toward a new labor deal that would include an expanded season, even as multiple players engage in high-profile clashes over how their teams handled health-related issues.
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A collective-bargaining agreement that includes a 17-game regular season and larger playoff field could be completed by as early as January, the Washington Post reported, citing sources on both sides of the ongoing negotiations. The NFL’s 32 owners have signaled a willingness to make concessions, the substance of which were not yet clear, in order to entice player representatives to agree to the longer schedule.
NFL players have long opposed the notion of a longer regular season, citing an enhanced risk for injury in a league that, to date, has not implemented fully guaranteed contracts for all players. Health concerns have been a source of major debate during the 2019 season, with prominent players former New York Jets guard Kelechi Osemele and Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams challenging teams over medical care they have received while employed.
The Jets released Osemele from his contract last month after he underwent shoulder surgery without the team’s permission. The Jets opposed the surgery because team officials felt it was a pre-existing injury should not have sidelined Osemele, ESPN reported, citing sources familiar with the matter. Osemele is expected to file a grievance to recover lost wages.
Williams, who has not played this season, revealed last month that he was diagnosed with a cancerous growth on his skull that was first detected six years ago. The Redskins tackle said the failure of the team’s medical staff to properly diagnose his condition had damaged his trust in the organization as a whole. Washington placed Williams on the non-football injury list and will reportedly withhold the remaining $5.1 million he was set to earn this season.
“The Washington Redskins have requested that the NFL’s Management Council convene a joint committee with the NFLPA to review the medical records and the medical care given to Trent Williams,” the team said in a statement. “We have requested this review under the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that provides for an independent third party review of any NFL player’s medical care. The Redskins continue to prioritize the health and well-being of our players and staff.”
The NFLPA has filed roughly 40 medical grievances on behalf of players over the last two years, according to the New York Times.
At present, it’s unclear if the concessions offered by NFL owners will directly address player health concerns. The move to a 17-game regular season and a pool of 14 playoff teams would occur alongside a reduction in preseason games, the Post reported.
“We’ve had very fruitful discussions on it, discussing the positives and negatives, the changes to the game that we’ve made over the last 10 years, which I think are really important as it relates to the safety of the game and how we’re preparing and practicing, training our players,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at an NFL owners meeting last month.
Player compensation and revenue-sharing are also key issues as NFL and players union officials move toward a labor agreement.
The NFL’s current collective-bargaining agreement is set to expire after the 2020 season.