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This is what happens if there is no 2020 NFL season

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Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Across the globe boredom has begun to set in as people grow weary of staying inside and social distancing in order to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. This is no different for NFL players, many of whom are probably like Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks and getting bored.

With free agency hitting the two week mark this week, news has slowed on that front and the offseason is entering a period that is typically quieter in any case. Many front offices and coaching staffs are now beginning, if they have not yet done so, to transition to draft mode. While so much of normal life has come to a screeching halt in recent weeks, the draft is still scheduled for April 23-25, though the exact logistics of how it is handled will certainly make for interesting watching.

However, as fans look forward to the draft and the distraction it brings, a relevant question was asked in the Friday piece on the salary cap status of the Seahawks at this point of the offseason. Specifically, the question from autorecycler was

[I]f the virus slows or shuts everything down for the season, what will contracts and obligations look like?

Well, the NFL addresses just that in Article 12 of the collective bargaining agreement.

Cancelled Games. If one or more weeks of any NFL season are cancelled or AR for any League Year substantially decreases, in either case due to a terrorist or military action, natural disaster, or similar event, the parties shall engage in good faith negotiations to adjust the provisions of this Agreement with respect to the projection of AR and the Salary Cap for the following League Year so that AR for the following League Year is projected in a fair manner consistent with the changed revenue projection caused by such action.

For those who have never bothered to spend a ton of time reading the CBA, “AR” is All Revenues and is defined as:

All Revenues (“AR”) means the aggregate revenues received or to be received on an accrual basis, for or with respect to a League Year during the term of this Agreement, by the NFL and all NFL Clubs (and their designees), from all sources, whether known or unknown, derived from, relating to or arising out of the performance of players in NFL football games, with only the specific exceptions set forth below.

The CBA then goes on to list out what those exceptions are, but they’re not necessary for this analysis. Anyone who actually wishes to read the full text may do so here. For the purposes of this review, the simple answer is that cancelled games means lowered revenues which means a lower cap going forward.

As for how it could impact the individual players, the answer is a little more complicated. Specifically, while fans often throw around the idea that salaries or bonuses are “fully guaranteed”, fully guaranteed is sort of a misnomer. Specifically, “fully guaranteed” is the easy way of using the legalese that actually goes into player contracts, and in contract language “fully guaranteed” means “guaranteed for skill, cap and injury”.

Jumping straight to the relevant portion of legally binding player contracts, here is the standard payment language from player contracts (Author’s note: Bolding added for emphasis is mine):

6. PAYMENT. Unless this contract or any collective bargaining agreement in existence during the term of this contract specifically provides otherwise, Player will be paid 100% of his yearly salary under this contract in equal weekly or biweekly installments over the course of a 34- or 36-week period during any of the applicable 2021 through 2029 League Years, commencing with the first regular season game played by Club in each season. In the 2030 League Year, if applicable, Player will be paid 100% of his yearly salary under this contract in equal weekly or biweekly installments over the course of the applicable regular season, commencing with the first regular season game played by Club in such season. Unless this contract specifically provides otherwise, if this contract is executed or Player is activated after the beginning of the regular season, the yearly salary payable to Player will be reduced proportionately and Player will be paid the weekly or biweekly portions of his yearly salary becoming due and payable after he is activated. Unless this contract specifically provides otherwise, if this contract is terminated after the beginning of the regular season, the yearly salary payable to Player will be reduced proportionately and Player will be paid the weekly or bi weekly portions of his yearly salary having become due and payable up to the time of termination.

The short version is that under player contracts teams are only required to beginning paying players once the regular season starts. If the regular season never starts, teams never become obligated to pay the players.

What that means to me is that if there is any indication that the season could be jeopardized by COVID-19 come July when training camps are set to open, the league would probably opt to delay starting the season in order to delay contractual obligations to players kicking in.

Hopefully things will have come under control by then, but looking around the country that may not be the case. While New York City has become the epicenter of the outbreak, hot spots have popped up in Georgia, Michigan and Louisiana and there’s so far been no indication that things are slowing down.