As the clock struck midnight on Sunday morning, March 15, the NFL Players Association’s (NFLPA) voting on the proposed collective bargaining agreement (CBA) had come to a close. Making good on its decree to swiftly provide the results of that vote, the NFLPA announced on Sunday morning that its members voted to ratify the CBA in advance of the advent of the 2020 NFL season. While the decision passed by the narrowest of margins (the final tally of 1019-959 was confirmed by the NFLPA), it was enough to ensure that the NFL will now proceed in their seasonal business under a new labor deal.
Overall, the agreement will have a widespread impact on the NFL and its players; both financially and operationally. The playoff field will be increased to include additional wild card teams, and and a 17-game regular season will be implemented in the upcoming years.
However, here in New England, the ramifications of the new CBA’s approval might be felt in a more personal and profound manner.
Simply put, it may allow for an easier path for Foxboro’s favorite son (quarterback Tom Brady) to follow the winding road back to Gillette Stadium.
By voting in favor of the new CBA, the NFLPA allowed that NFL will no longer operate under the “Final League Year” rules. This is a key positive step for the New England Patriots and their quest to re-sign Brady. In essence, the new guidelines nullify the set of rules that came to be known as the “30 percent rule.”
What is the “30 percent rule, you may ask??
Article 13, Section 7, Point A of the previous CBA that was signed in 2011 defined that rule as follows:
No NFL Player Contract extending into a season beyond the Final League Year may provide for an annual increase in Salary, excluding any amount attributable to a signing bonus of more than 30% of the Salary provided for in the Final League Year, per year, either in the season after the Final League Year or in any subsequent season covered by the Player Contract.
So, how does this help with the Brady negotiations?
As articulated by Bernd Buchmasser of SB Nation’s Pats’ Pulpit, please assume for a moment that a player signs a contract this offseason that pays him a salary of $10 million in 2020. Without a new CBA, that deal would have had to work under the “30 percent rule.” Consequently, the salaries in the subsequent years of the deal would not have been able to rise more than 30 percent on an annual basis. This hypothetical player would therefore have received a maximum salary of $13 million in 2021, $16 million in 2022, and so on.
However, with a new CBA in place, teams will be permitted to structure contracts, as such during regular seasons and offseasons. In short, salaries may increase without any stipulations in place to limit the increase to 30 percent. From the Patriots’ perspective, this means that they can again back-load contracts to alleviate a portion of the strain on their salary cap. This could be particularly significant within the coming weeks. The NFL Management Council has informed team officials the salary cap will be $198.2 million per club in 2020, per sources.
Per Patriots salary cap expert, Miguel Benzan, the team is expected to have approximately $25.43 million in cap space as the season begins.
As a result, the Patriots might find it much more palatable to re-sign their franchise’s cornerstone. While reports have been swirling as of late about the Pats’ willingness to only offer Brady a one-year deal worth $13-15 million, this agreement may snap the innuendo back into coherent focus. While the previous cap restrictions may have limited the Patriots creativity, they likely have greater flexibility to offer a deal closer to market value. This time, their counteroffer can simultaneously fit under the cap in 2020. Should the Patriots be amenable to offering a second year to their proposal, Brady’s salary in 2021 is now able to increase beyond 30 percent in 2021, as well as any additional years. As a result, structuring a long-term contract seems a bit more possible than it did just mere hours before.
In the final analysis, the New England Patriots stand to benefit from the parameters of the new collective bargaining agreement. The Pats are once again free to operate within their position of strength; which is creating short-term salary cap space by converting salaries into signing bonuses. Despite the narratives that consistently downplay the impact of the CBA and cap restrictions, Sunday’s ratification by the players was a necessary step in the team’s progression into the new season. Under the previous league rules, such conversions would not have been impossible for the “Final League Year.” Although signing bonuses were not covered by the stipulation, the salary jump from one season to the next would have violated the “30 percent rule.” Instead, they have a much-needed increase in flexibility with their options They also have more tools at their disposal when it comes to both creating short-term salary cap space and re-signing Tom Brady, as well as other potential free agents.
Yet the white elephant in the room remains the willingness of both sides to convene and agree to a deal that is mutually beneficial. As the CBA has provided the necessary clarity on the financial rules and regulations, we are all about to learn the level of resolve that the New England Patriots and Tom Brady have to continue the most successful franchise-athlete pairing in NFL history. The consensus within New England is that Brady and the Pats are much better together than they ever could be apart. Those who equate the ‘Flying Elvis’ logo with a personification of evil, continue to wait for the destruction of the dynasty with bated breath. Sadly, some remain addicted to the speculation to drive their own brand. However, the decision of where Tom Brady will take his snaps in 2020 equates to this inescapable fact; he has to want New England, and New England has to want him.
As of Sunday morning, we have a much clearer picture of the Patriots’ financial options.
And now…Patriots Nation waits.
-Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and Columnist for Full Press Coverage. He covers the New England Patriots and provides NFL editorial content. He is also the host of the Locked On Patriots podcast. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC