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Players Ratify New NFL Contract, Expanding Playoffs And Possibly Lengthening Season

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The National Football League is one major professional sports league in this country that's been relatively unscathed by the coronavirus outbreak. It's the off-season, so games aren't being canceled or postponed, and business continues. This past weekend, NFL players approved a new contract with owners. That contract guarantees a truce, at least for the next decade. But as NPR's Tom Goldman reports, the player vote was close and contentious.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Just under 2,000 cast ballots on the collective bargaining agreement. The yes votes won by a mere 60. Majority rules isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for the new agreement, but union president J.C. Tretter will take it.

J C TRETTER: You know, it was a democratic process, and the majority decided.

GOLDMAN: The union was, at times, bitterly divided on one issue in particular - lengthening the NFL regular season from 16 games to 17. The extra game meant more possibility for injury. Tretter, who plays for the Cleveland Browns, knows the final player vote doesn't mean the disagreement magically will go away.

TRETTER: So I'm sure there'll still be people who have strong opinions, but my hope is that they'll understand the importance that, you know, a strong union comes from unity and in being together.

GOLDMAN: The contract gives owners the right to expand the regular season in 2021. It would be the first such expansion in more than 40 years, and the playoffs will grow from 12 teams to 14 this coming season. There are elements in the new agreement that could offset the increased risk of an extra game, including a limit on practice with pads during training camp as a way to reduce contact and high-impact injuries. There are added benefits for retired players and more money for current ones. Tretter says minimum salaries will increase about $100,000 per player for what he calls the back end of the roster guys.

TRETTER: That impacts about 60- to 65% of the players, our minimum salary players, which is a huge part of our player population, so, you know, that's another huge win for us is helping those guys out. So that was a goal of ours that we set out to do.

GOLDMAN: Debates will continue about who won in this new agreement, owners or players. But in that very word agreement, the NFL can at least claim it's achieved something valuable in a world and sports world reeling from the ongoing pandemic - stability.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOCOTRONIC'S "DIE UNENDLICHKEIT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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