NFL, NFLPA dispute over money won’t keep football from happening

As the NFL and NFL Players Association continue to haggle over whether and to what extent players will be paid in the event that games are canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, some are suggesting that, if the league and the union can’t reach a deal over money, there will be no football in 2020. That’s simply not the case.

The NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement — ratified by the NFLPA after the pandemic began — already addresses the situation. Because the CBA contains no force majeure clause, the players currently are entitled to full pay in 2020, even if games are canceled. The league’s only argument regarding reduced pay comes under the Standard Player Contract, which suggests that the duty to pay base salary does not arise until at least one game has been played.

In other words, if there are no games, the players get no pay. If, however, there is only one game, the players get full pay.

Through these negotiations, the league is trying to create a force majeure clause on the fly, getting players to agree to be paid only for games that are played, even though the league has had the ability within the confines of every single CBA negotiation that ever has occurred to ask for a force majeure clause. The league’s sole protection in the event of a pandemic comes from the mutual duty to negotiate in good faith as to the impact of lost 2020 revenues on the 2021 salary cap.

Nothing stops the players from agreeing to a force majeure clause in order to reduce the overall 2020 losses that would need to be addressed in the future, but the players don’t have to agree to one. And if the two sides don’t strike a deal as to player pay in 2020, the current CBA will control. Most importantly, the absence of a deal on money won’t allow the owners to lock out the players.

That said, there’s a chance (in theory) that the league would be more inclined to pull the plug on the entire season, if faced with the possibility of owing the players full pay even if only one game is played, but no pay if no games are played. As one league source remarked yesterday, some teams would likely prefer to scrap the season than to risk owing the full amount of the 2020 player payroll even if only a handful of 2020 games ultimately are played.

Regardless, the league can’t take the position that there will be no football in 2020 if the players don’t agree to modify the CBA when it comes to the issue of player compensation. As the NFL would say (and has said) when it comes to aspects of the CBA that the players don’t like, it’s a collectively-bargained issue.

Which is a tactful way of saying, “Tough crap.”