The NFL competed without a formal salary cap closing in on a decade ago after the Collective Bargaining Agreement between team owners and players, which regulated the level of the salary cap, expired. While a couple of teams would eventually be fined for abusing those circumstances, it was generally seen as something that nobody wanted repeated.
Nor was the offseason of 2011, in which the CBA did not exist. Outside of the mandated events, such as the draft, there was no offseason. Undrafted rookies were not able to sign with teams during that time, and there were no OTAs or minicamps and things of that nature.
It was all a troubling time. And a decade later, both sides are bracing for it to happen again. As ESPN recently reported, we are already seeing teams make preparations for the possibility of it occurring. The current, 10-year CBA is scheduled to expire in 2021.
And, surely just by coincidence, the new contracts that coaches have been signing so far this offseason just so happen to reflect a different pay structure for that season. The website also reports that the contracts that players sign in free agency are also anticipated to reflect similar language.
“Teams are trying to protect themselves and save money in the event of missed time, using different percentages for amounts of the football season that could be missed in 2021”, writes Adam Schefter. He added that a source believes “both teams and coaches are confident that there will be some type of disruption, and one of the first signs of it is showing up in the language of coaches’ contracts”.
Now, to be clear, this is not a new phenomenon, as indicated in a Tweet from the NFLPA that is included in that ESPN article from Schefter. The Players Association notes that “these contract provisions were also seen in the lead up to the 2011 lockout”.
2011 would be the third year of any contract that is signed now, so there’s a very good chance that many of the contract signed in a couple months will continue to be actively honored by the time the CBA is set to expire.
There is still plenty of time between now and then for either side—or both sides—to do something to try to avoid a work stoppage, but the same was true of the last time as well. And they still reached an impasse that took quite some time to resolve.
And it’s worth noting that former Pittsburgh Steelers president Dan Rooney’s steady and even hand played a key role in seeing that period to its resolution. He’s not here and longer. Who will be the voice of reason this time? I’m not sure there is one, unless Art Rooney II can step in.