The NFL will discuss today expanding the playoffs, one of a number of issues on the agenda for the Spring League Meeting. But even if, as expected, there's enough support in the room to go forward with the idea, the owners are expected to move carefully.
And it's not simply the idea of more playoff games that could get in the way.
Chances are, the burgeoning issue of workers compensation benefits will set up as the primary roadblock in the owners adding two teams to the playoff field for 2015. The NFL Players Association has stood in staunch opposition of a bill introduced in the Louisiana state legislature, and supported by the Saints, that would limit workers comp benefits based on the week in which a player in injured.
Because players are paid their base salary in 17 installments during the regular-season weeks, it would leave them vulnerable during the playoffs, the offseason program, training camp and the preseason. The union has opposed similar legislation in California, Arizona and North Carolina.
Union sources say the NFLPA isn't necessarily opposed to expanded playoffs -- which would bring explicit (financial) and implicit (added job security) benefits for players -- but is prepared to use approving such a measure as a negotiating point.
The NFL has not yet presented the NFLPA with any proposal for changes to the existing playoff structure.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Monday that he believes the league could move forward unilaterally, but the NFLPA vehemently disagrees. Union sources say it would constitute a change in work conditions, and those types of changes must be collectively bargained. Also, the NFLPA would cite Article (XX) of the NFL's Constitution and Bylaws, which spells out the playoff structure.
The front of the Constitution and Bylaws reads that "provisions of the constitution relating to the players remain subject to provisions of the collective bargaining agreement." It then cites a number of Articles, but not Article XX explicitly, which leaves some gray area on whether or not the league could move forward without the NFLPA's consent.
Two league sources said that the NFL doesn't plan to force expanded playoffs through.
The idea, rather, will be to come up with a plan, and then present it to the players and have extensive discussions before implementing it. That could be when the NFLPA looks to the NFL for workers comp reform.
While there are five pages on workers comp in the CBA, the NFLPA's proposal to have a comprehensive policy implemented during the 2011 negotiations didn't result in an agreement. Since then, the union has been wary of the NFL taking players out state by state with the type of legislation that's been presented in Louisiana.
So the NFLPA now views the owners' desire to expand the playoffs as a chance to amend what it views as a growing problem.