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Why Week 1 remains a key moment for players and NFL as pandemic rages

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys
Courtesy of the franchise tender the Cowboys used on him, Dak Prescott stands to lose more base salary than any other NFL player in 2020 if there is no season.
Shane Roper-USA TODAY Sports

With a heat wave hitting the northeast that is expected to push the temperatures in the New York City area to near record highs, the heat is also on at the NFL league offices inside 345 Park Avenue to resolve the player health and safety disputes regarding the pandemic. The United States has been largely devoid of major sports since March, when the NBA, NHL and MLB put their seasons on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, as rookies for the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans prepare to report for training camp Monday, the league is scrambling to address the concerns of its most valued asset, the players, and a major turning point sits just around the corner.

As MLB plans to return to the field soon, as MLS has already done and the NBA is bubbled up ready for its own return, the start of the NFL season remains just under eight weeks away for the majority of franchises. Specifically, every team not named the Chiefs or Texans has entered countdown mode for Week 1 of the 2020 season, set to take place the second weekend in September. For the Seattle Seahawks, that means an opening game road trip to Georgia to face off against the Atlanta Falcons on September 13 in an area that is currently a hot spot in terms of the pandemic.

Digging into the archives to a piece from back in March, the impending arrival of Week 1 carries significant implications. Specifically, salary obligations don’t kick in until players take the players take the field and play the first week of the season. This is a subject on which Field Gulls has touched in recent months, however, Mike Florio of PFT, an NBC Sports outlets, has also chimed in on what the CBA means to players and owners, and how this issue has become one of the sticking points in negotiations between the league and the union.

Specifically, from the article, the following is noteworthy.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the status of salaries guaranteed for skill, injury, and cap has become a major concern for players who presumed that fully guaranteed means fully guaranteed. The league, in its most recent proposal to the NFL Players Association, specified that “skill, injury, and/or cap guarantees do not apply to require payment for cancelled games.”

It’s been discussed in various salary cap pieces on Field Gulls in the past, but as Florio notes, “Fully Guaranteed” in terms of an NFL salary means that the salary is guaranteed for skill, injury and or cap. “Fully Guaranteed” for an NFL salary does not mean that the player earns their fully guaranteed salary if no part of the season is ever played, which has apparently come as a wake up call to many players.

For the Seattle Seahawks, the player for whom this has the largest financial ramifications is, of course, Russell Wilson, who stands to earn $18M in base salary on his contract. However, While Wilson stands to potentially miss out on $18M if the season isn’t played, there are other players across the league who stand to potentially miss out on more salary. That list includes players such as Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys, whose franchise tag tender will pay him $31.409M in fully guaranteed salary, assuming a season happens.

In working towards making the season happen, the league and its franchise owners are set to have a meeting on Monday in order to discuss the details of their safety and operational plans for the 2020 season, even as players have been instructed to begin reporting to work the same day.

While the possibility for a major announcement exists following the conclusion of this call, it won’t be a surprise if the call simply brings about another round of negotiations with the union regarding the finer details of these matters. In short, hope for news of progress on an agreement between the two sides Monday afternoon, but be prepared for the negotiations to continue through the week if the two sides can’t iron everything out.