After a few days of fevered negotiating with players that finally resulted in an agreement Friday afternoon, the NFL ended up right back where it started — with training camps for most teams, including the Seahawks, able to open Tuesday.
That had been the plan all along, but the timeline had become somewhat in doubt this week as the league and the NFL Players Association negotiated a variety of topics related to revised training camp protocols necessitated by the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as how to deal with possible financial implications. Reports stated the league had been debating a possible shutdown of camps if they could not come to agreement with the players on key health and economic issues.
But ultimately, a proposal by the league was ratified by the players Friday, meaning the full Seahawks roster can now report to camp Tuesday along with most of the rest of the league (exceptions are the Texans and Chiefs, who can start this weekend due to playing on the opening Thursday night).
“The NFL clubs and the NFL Players Association approved an agreement that broadly resolves all outstanding issues relating to the opening of training camps and start of the 2020 season,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “Training camps will begin as scheduled. … The season will undoubtedly present new and additional challenges, but we are committed to playing a safe and complete 2020 season, culminating with the Super Bowl.”
The plan was approved 29-3 in a vote of the player representatives of the league’s 32 teams.
But this won’t be a typical opening to training camp.
There won’t be the typical 2,500 or so fans at the VMAC greeting players as they take to the field to the playing of high-energy music to begin doing football drills. Instead, due to coronavirus-necessitated changes, there won’t be any fans at the VMAC this year.
There also won’t be any football-like drills for more than two weeks as the league agreed to an extended “ramp-up’’ period to get COVID-19 testing in order and also allow players time to get back in football shape.
In fact, players won’t even be in the building until a week from Saturday, with the first four days of camp devoted to testing and virtual meetings (players will be tested Tuesday and Friday and if they test negative both days then they can be in the building with Wednesday and Thursday spent as quarantine days, with remote meetings.)
Once players are in the building beginning on Aug. 1, two more days will be devoted to physicals.
Then comes eight days of strength and conditioning, beginning on Aug. 3, before an actual practice on the 16th day (Aug. 12 for the Seahawks).
The Seahawks won’t get into pads for three weeks, or not until Aug. 17.
Also different: There will be no preseason games. The league finally acquiesced to the players’ view that the games represent an unnecessary health risk.
Canceling the preseason had been speculated for weeks but was finally made official Friday. That means fan won’t see the Seahawks in a game-like setting until the regular-season opener Sept. 13 at Atlanta.
The league also made some tweaks to roster sizes, though not necessarily as dramatic has had been reported could be in the offing.
Teams can still take 90 players to the beginning of camp, but will have to cut to 80 by Aug. 16, or the day before the first padded practice. However, teams cannot have more than 80 players in their building at once, meaning teams will either have to have split practices, or can cut to 80 players now. (Teams will have to cut to 53 on Sept. 5).
The league also increased the size of the practice squads from 12 to 16 but also stated that six of those players can have an unlimited number of accrued seasons. In the past, the practice squad has been limited mostly to players with two accrued seasons or less. Teams will be able to protect four practice squad players each week from being signed to another team’s active roster, in a way effectively creating a 57-man roster each week.
Allowing up to six players of any experience will allow for some needed roster flexibility, while also increasing the number of players who will have jobs. And that essentially means teams would be able to keep — if they wanted — up to 69 of the 80 players in camp in some capacity once the regular season begins (practice-squad players will take on added importance this year with the ability to call up two each week to the game-day roster, as well).
The league’s plan earned approval only after making a few key financial concessions to the players.
Notably, the league agreed to spread out any impact in the salary cap due to a decrease in revenue this season over the next four years beginning in 2021 instead of trying to take it all immediately.
That means there will be no decrease in the cap for 2020, leaving it at $198.2 million, further meaning teams won’t have to make any roster changes now if they don’t want (the league had proposed cutting the cap by $8 million for this season).
The league also agreed to a salary cap minimum of $175 million in 2021, which could go higher depending on how revenues shake out.
The league had initially proposed a $165 million salary cap floor for 2021 after there had been initial rumblings the league could look to drop it $80 million or so.
Even at $175 million teams might still have to make some difficult decisions in 2021 to account for a decrease — the cap had been expected to jump up markedly in 2021 before the COVID-19 outbreak and has in most recent years risen by $10 million or so.
The Seahawks, for instance, have roughly $88 million in cap space for 2021 tied up in five players — Russell Wilson ($32 million), Bobby Wagner ($17.1 million), Jarran Reed ($13.4 million), Duane Brown ($13 million) and Tyler Lockett ($12.5 million).
The decrease in cap for 2021 also could impact any rush to sign any players whose contracts run out following the 2020 season to extensions now.
Seattle, though, will be in better shape than most teams.
According to projections from OvertheCap.com, the Seahawks would currently have $39.2 million in cap space for the 2021 season, assuming a cap of $175 million, more than all but six other teams.
The league also agreed to plan for players who want to opt-out of the season for health reasons.
Players reportedly will have seven days to opt out — if they do so, their contract tolls to the 2021 season, meaning they would play their 2021 seasons under the terms of their 2020 contract.
Players deemed high-risk who opt out will receive a $350,000 stipend for the season. Players deemed low-risk will get a $150,000 salary advance.
The testing protocols — two negative tests needed in four days before being allowed in the building and daily tests for two weeks — had been agreed upon earlier in the week. If there is a less than 5% positive test rate, testing will be reduced to every other day. If the rate goes above 5%, daily testing will resume.