The NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement Refresher Course

A lot of people understandably mentally checked out during the lockout, and many lost sons have been slowly returning to us as we're approaching actual, real, 'this matters, guys' football. It's good to see all of you again. I've missed you, each and everyone on of you. Except you. I never liked you.

One side effect of people checking out during the lockout is that I've been noticing some confusion about the new CBA's rules. Either because there is some misinformation floating around or because people can, forgivably, not be bothered to dig through 300 pages of a legal document.

So, here's a refresher course on some of the key points causing confusion or that you may not know from the new CBA, though not intended to be all-encompassing:

The new CBA is in place until 2020 (including the 2021 draft) with no opt-out clause for either side. The player's part of the revenue split is calculated by percentages of different parts of overall revenue, but banded to not fall below 47% or above 48-48.5%. Some unquestionably good moves: a $620 million legacy fund was set up for former players (and make no mistake, neither players nor owners have any legal obligation to former players), as well as the upping of all rookie and veteran minimum wages by an average of $55K. Now on to specific points (for which I will cite the relevant article and section from the CBA):

Salary cap and floor (article 12 section 8 & 9): This one in particular causes some confusion as it is split into different periods. For the league years 2011 and 2012, there is a hard salary cap but no per-team salary floor. Instead, league-wide cash spending must be 99% of the total cap. If the NFL falls below that amount, the shortfall will be paid out by September 15 following each season. That is to say, on or before September 15th the players that were on the teams' rosters during that year shall be paid directly according to allocation numbers determined by the NFLPA.

Then, for the periods 2013-2016 and 2017-2020, the league-wide cash spending commitment drops to 95%, but a per-team cash commitment is put into place of 89%. For both these periods, the cash commitment is calculated at the end of each 4-year period, not at the end of each league year. This means that if you're below the 89% cash floor one year, you can spend a little more the next to make up for it. If you still don't make the floor over the entire period, the team pays out its players directly, again through allocation numbers determined by the NFLPA.

In other words, while the hard cap stays in place (article 13 section 2) and will steadily grow (and likely get a huge bump with new TV deals in 2014), there is no hard salary floor anymore, and a team is never forced to pay a certain amount to make the floor in any one given year. The money still has to be spent by the end of each period, though.

Cap floor numbers are calculated at the end of each season, while the cap ceiling is enforced year-round. During the pre-season when teams have over 53 men on their roster (90 this year, probably 80 from here on out), only the top 51 salaries on your team count towards the cap. When the final cuts happen the two bottom salaries are added (usually around league minimum salaries) as well as the practice squad numbers. All teams needs to be below the cap at all times during the season.

53-man and game day roster (article 25 section 1 & 4): I have heard some suggest the regular season roster has been expanded to 54. It has not. The regular season roster is still 53 players. However, the active game day roster has been expanded from 45 to 46 players. Before this CBA, the game day roster was 45 players plus an emergency QB with several rules around his usage. They have ejected the convoluted emergency QB rule in favor of simply putting another eligible player up for game day. It does not have to be a QB.

Unrestricted free agency (article 9 section 1): All players with four or more accrued seasons will become unrestricted free agents the moment they are no longer under contract (because they have been cut or their contract ran out). This is the same as it was for the previous CBA, but the 2010 temporary measures threw a spanner in the works by temporarily upping the restricted rules, which led to a flood of free agents in 2011. Players with less than four accrued seasons become restricted free agents, or exclusive rights players if they have less than three.

An accrued season (article 8 section 1) is any season in which the player was on full pay status for his club for at least 6 games, but those 6 games do not include games in which the player was on the Commissioner Exempt list, reserve PUPd for a nonfootball injury (PUP/IR for football injuries do count) or on the club's practice squad.

Rookie contracts (article 7, esp section 3): Many limitations have been put on rookie contracts, where before they were growing out of control. Each draft slot makes a pre-determined amount of money, within a narrow band, and the only really negotiable item is the amount of guaranteed money in the contract (some rookie 1st round contracts were fully guaranteed).

All rookie contracts have a pre-determined length that the team and player can not deviate from: all draft picks sign 4-year contracts. All undrafted free agents sign 3-year contracts. In addition there is a 5th-year option on 1st round pick contracts that the club can choose to pick up. For picks 1-10, the cost of this option will be equal to the average of the top 10 salaries at the player's position in the prior year. For other 1st round picks, the cost is the average of the 3rd to 25th top salaries at the player's position.

Per article 7 section 3k, a drafted rookie's contract may not be altered, renegotiated or extended until the final regular season game of  his 3rd NFL season. An undrafted rookie's contract may similarly not be touched until the final regular season game of his 2nd NFL season. Since we renegotiated Aaron Curry before the end of his 3rd season, I think contracts from the previous CBA period remain under the old rules, which stipulated no renegotiation until the end of the 2nd year.

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