With a 1,019 to 959 majority vote that concluded at 11:59 p.m. ET Saturday, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) voted to pass a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that is expected to begin in the 2020 season and extend through 2030. The new CBA comes with several changes that impact player benefits, health and safety and season scheduling among other modifications that fans will see as well.
"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," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "We appreciate the tireless efforts of the members of the Management Council Executive Committee and the NFLPA leadership, both of whom devoted nearly a year to detailed, good faith negotiations to reach this comprehensive, transformative agreement."
Here, we'll break down some of the top-headline items and how these will affect the San Francisco 49ers over the next decade.
Salary Cap Increase
This year's salary cap is expected to rise to $198.2 million per club according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, an increase of $10 million from 2019. Teams will be allowed to work with a little more capital as free agency is set to begin Wednesday, March 18 at 1 p.m. PT.
As of Sunday, teams are still expected to begin negotiations with the representatives of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2019 player contracts at 1 p.m. PT on Monday, March 16 and can reach agreements at the start of the league year on Wednesday.
Expanded Playoff Structure
Previously, 12 teams (six from each conference) advanced in the NFL's playoff structure that included four first-round byes and eight teams in the Wild Card matchups. That number has been increased to 14 teams qualifying for the postseason, as each conference will have seven playoff teams. Under the new CBA, only the No. 1 seed in each conference would receive a bye for the Wild Card round.
To put that into context, in 2019, the 49ers, who were the top seed in the NFC, and the No. 2 seeded Green Bay Packers both received first round byes heading into the postseason. If this were the case under the new CBA, only the 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens (first in the AFC) would have received a first round bye, and the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers would have been the seventh-added seeds.
This formula widens the road to the Super Bowl and makes the top seed in each conference more significant in the playoff race.
17-Game NFL Seasons
Under the agreement, owners have the option to extend the current NFL season from 16 to 17 games beginning as early as 2021. The league's window to add the 17th regular-season game going forward begins in 2021 and closes in 2023. Opponents have already been set for 2020, which is why this new option will not take place for at least one more season.
With an odd number of games, the league will have to devise a formula to determine how to delegate which conferences and divisions will have nine games and how to fairly alternate the matchups.
Pending the NFL's option to expand its regular season to 17 games, would mean less exhibition play. The current four-game preseason schedule would be reduced to three games. In a 17-game season, players will receive a mandatory "bye week" after the third preseason game.
In addition to a shortened preseason, the CBA also made changes to other elements during training camp and preseason that include a limit of four joint practices allowed, the length of padded and full-speed practices (2.5 hour limit) and the reduction of days in pads (no more than 16) among other changes.
Game day active rosters will now increase from 46 to 48 players beginning in 2020. According to ESPN, one of the extra players must be an offensive lineman, which will give teams more flexibility to have three extra linemen on gamedays. It's worth noting a total of eight of the 48 players dressed on game days must be a lineman. If a team decides to dress fewer than eight, they may only dress 47 players on a game day. As a result, overall rosters will increase from the widely-recognized 53-man to now 55 players.
Practice Squad Changes
In addition to an increase in a team's roster, practice squads will also expand. Originally, teams could sign 10 players to their practice squad. Beginning this season, 12 players can be signed to a team's practice squad through 2021, and 14 starting in 2022.
According to NFL.com, two practice-squad players each week can be elevated to the team's active roster, meaning that the roster during the week will effectively be 55. That, the league hopes, will help spread out the wear and tear players incur from the 17th game.
Since 2007, the NFL has annually played games internationally, including London and Mexico City. According to the new CBA, no more than 10 international games can be played in a single season from 2020-2025 unless a Club has been displaced from its existing stadium. The most international games that have ever been played in a single season is five in 2017 and 2019.