EDITOR'S NOTE: This was updated to reflect that the NFL will start the new league year on Wednesday at 4 p.m. as previously planned. Find out below what that means for the Eagles.
There is good news on the NFL front as news emerged that the National Football League Players Association approved the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in voting that ended at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday. The league's owners voted in February to approve the deal, so the players' approval was all that remained in order to secure it
"We are pleased that the players have voted to ratify the proposed new CBA, which will provide substantial benefits to all current and retired players, increase jobs, ensure continued progress on player safety, and give our fans more and better football," said Commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement provided by the league. "We appreciate the tireless efforts of the members of the Management Council Executive Committee and the NFLPA leadership, both of whom devoted nearly a year to detailed, good faith negotiations to reach this comprehensive, transformative agreement."
What does that mean?
In the long term, it means labor peace through at least 2030 and that a 17-game schedule could be implemented as early as the 2021 season. In the short term, the new CBA clears the way for teams to start negotiating contracts with the agents of pending unrestricted free agents on Monday at noon ahead of the beginning of the league's new calendar year and free agency that starts on Wednesday, March 18 at 4 p.m. when teams can announce deals with players. Despite the restrictions in place because of the global pandemic, COVID-19, the NFL will proceed as planned.
The Eagles have long prepared for every scenario as they detailed their plan for the 2020 season, and prior to the team closing the NovaCare Complex and Lincoln Financial Field on Friday, Executive Vice President/General Manager Howie Roseman talked about what's ahead.
"We've spent the whole (2019) season preparing for this offseason. The preparation for the draft really started last May and the same for free agency, so that's our job," Roseman said. "Technology is so great. Our IT (information technology) department and our video department do such a great job and that allows us to work from anywhere. Some of us will still have the opportunity to be here."
The Eagles have an estimated $36.451 million under the $198.2 million salary cap, according to OverTheCap.com, with some very definite roster spots to fill. Of course, the Eagles also have a long list of players who are slated to be unrestricted free agents as of Wednesday at 4 p.m. – these players are on that list: wide receiver Nelson Agholor, defensive end Vinny Curry, cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, running back Jordan Howard, safety Rodney McLeod, offensive tackles Jason Peters and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, defensive tackles Tim Jernigan and Hassan Ridgeway, tight end Richard Rodgers, and quarterbacks Josh McCown and Nate Sudfeld – after they tendered exclusive rights free agent punter Cameron Johnston on Thursday. Running back Corey Clement is on track to become a restricted free agent.
So, the NFL has long-term labor peace in place through 2030. The Eagles have short-term plans that they hope provide an upgrade to a playoff-level roster already in place.
"Our interest in getting everything right for September and as we've seen in the past, it's not just about the first day of free agency," Roseman said. "We're building the roster and looking for ways to improve, every day of the year. That doesn't change. We saw in the Super Bowl season of 2017 how we added to, for example, the running back room after the draft. We signed Corey Clement after the draft. We signed LeGarrette Blount in May and then we added Jay (Ajayi) during the season at the trade deadline. Those were our three running backs in the Super Bowl. You're always on the lookout for more talent."
The new CBA allows the NFL to expand its regular season from 16 to 17 games as early as 2021 and expand the playoff field from 12 teams to 14 beginning as soon as this upcoming season. It also includes higher minimum salaries, improvements to benefits for current and former players, expanded rosters and practice squads, and changes to the league's drug and discipline policies, all of which will go into effect in 2020. The deal would increase the players' share of league revenue from 47 percent to 48 percent in 2021 and at least 48.5 percent in any season in which 17 regular-season games are played.
In this time of extreme concern because of the coronavirus and with professional sports on pause, the NFL will have the spotlight this week with the legal negotiating period opening on Monday and free agency kicking off on Wednesday.