Our ESPN Insiders have provided an expert assessment of how NFL teams are positioned to compete during the next three seasons. That will bring us to the year 2020, the dawn of a new decade and the start of a key period for owners and players as they posture for the expiration of their 10-year collective bargaining agreement. (Assuming they don’t agree on an extension before the current CBA expires after the 2020 season.)
What will the NFL look like at that point? What advances will it have made? What issues will it have solved, and what problems might still remain? Let’s take a closer look.
You’ve heard the argument: NFL players have the shortest careers — less than four years, on average — while playing a game that maims some of them. Yet their contracts are never fully guaranteed, meaning teams can release them at any time without paying the full amount due. But establishing a fully guaranteed paradigm is not a matter of changing policy. (It’s not mentioned in the CBA.) It would require a fundamental change in the market. Players have long agreed to these terms during individual negotiations. What would incentivize owners to guarantee contracts fully when they don’t have to? A high-profile player could hold out and force a one-off concession, but it’s tough to imagine all players benefiting in the same way. And even if owners changed their approach, it’s fair to wonder if they would simply reduce multiyear, partially guaranteed offers to one-year, fully guaranteed deals. In short, it’s difficult to conceive a meaningful path to fully guaranteed multiyear deals across the league.