NFL owners and player leadership are expected to resume formal bargaining talks within the next few weeks, with hopes of finalizing a new collective bargaining agreement before the league's 100th season ends -- though a lot of work remains.
According to sources involved in the process, there have been multiple staff meetings this month that have yielded additional progress on secondary issues. But the standoff on the most important issue hasn't substantively changed: owners want to add regular-season games while preserving their share of revenue, and players want to increase their share of revenue without adding regular-season games.
Formal bargaining has been on hold since late August, with NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith hitting the road for his annual tour of all 32 teams to speak with players -- trips the union accelerated this year as a show of good faith to get the sides back to the bargaining table sooner.
Smith's tour will end around Oct. 10, though there's a possibility bargaining could resume before then. The NFL's fall meetings are scheduled for Oct. 15-16 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. No firm date has been set for what will be the eighth formal bargaining session, sources say.
Ideally, the league would approach networks by December about extending the league's TV deals. So, a promise of labor peace for years to come at that point would be valuable and creates a logical target for trying to strike a deal.
The Athletic reported last week that owners were informed in recent committee meetings that their side will pursue an expansion from a 16-game regular season to 17 games, not 18. But as NFL.com reported last month, expanding the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams remains more likely than regular-season expansion, offsetting revenue lost by shortening the preseason from four games to three or even two.
Players are opposed to regular-season expansion, absent significant economic concessions. And as one person with knowledge of the players' thinking said, the deeper into the season that bargaining talks go, the harder it will be to get the players on board with playing an even longer slate of regular-season games.
Players are guaranteed 47 percent of total revenue under the current CBA, which is set to expire after the 2020 season.
Until the macroeconomic issues are resolved, agreements on other issues remain tentative. Among the recent discussion points has been a push on the player side for changes to the fifth-year option on rookie contracts that would make it less restrictive. (One idea: count the fifth year as a franchise tag, with a special exception created for rookies.)
Sources say there also are tentative agreements on issues involving benefits, raising minimum salaries, improving former player healthcare, workplace rules, how grievances are handled, health and safety, etc. One non-economic issue that owners and player leadership have discussed in bargaining sessions is marijuana, with both sides on board with making the jointly negotiated policy less punitive, sources say.
There is no firm timeline or deadline for agreeing to a new CBA, though there are some key benchmarks ahead. That includes a March election for the NFLPA executive committee, with respected president Eric Winston -- the 12-year veteran tackle who is now retired and will be ineligible to run for a fourth term, barring a surprise comeback -- among those due to cycle off under the union's constitution because he's not playing this season.