In just three days, on July 20, the first two of the NFL’s 32 teams will have to report to training camp. According to reports by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport, the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, who will play in this year’s regular season opener, have informed their players that their respective training camps will start on time and that their rookies and quarterbacks will need to report to the facilities on Monday.
The problem is that many of the protocols surrounding a safe return in light of the Coronavirus pandemic are still undecided at this point in time, and subject to discussions between the league and the player union. Time is very literally running out for the two sides to strike a deal, and a recent social media post by Texans defensive end J.J. Watt further illustrated just how far apart the parties still are on some key issues:
In the interest of having everyone on the same page in terms of what we know and don’t know at this time, here are a few things I’ve learned being on four NFLPA calls in the last two weeks with hundreds of other players.— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) July 16, 2020
Keep in mind our rookies are scheduled to report in 48 hrs pic.twitter.com/wAH1XyQenf
The NFLPA held a conference call on Wednesday that included a group of around 50 high-profile players — Watt among them — aiming to inform where discussions with the league are currently standing. As the post above shows, however, plenty of questions remain unanswered with training camp on the horizon: Covid-19 testing and the handling of positive tests is still not clear, as are training camp and reporting procedures, and whether or not preseason will take place.
The situation remains a fluid one, and the questions raised by Watt are not the only ones currently being discussed: according to Tom Pelissero, the league and the player representatives are also still in the process of figuring out how to handle the projected decrease in revenue if no fans will be able to attend games this fall.
The league’s latest economic proposal has eliminated the controversial provision of a 35 percent salary escrow, but it replaced it with a reduction in player costs: teams would have to cut back on $40 million worth of salary cap and/or contractual benefits this year. The NFLPA, unsurprisingly, is against such a short-term solution — one that could present major problems for every team in the league if not properly thought through (the New England Patriots, for example, currently have just $7.79 million in cap space available).
If no solution can be reached, the revenue deficit would be accounted for next either next year or over a prolonged period of time. This could mean a flat salary cap for the next few seasons — it has been set at $198.2 million for the 2020 campaign — or a sharp falling of the spending floor for next year. What the latter scenario would look like remains to be seen, but the projections are not rosy: the cap could fall by $50 million to $70 million per club.
This would be a disaster for a lot of organizations.
According to calculations by Over The Cap, only seven of the league’s 32 clubs would currently be scheduled to stand under a $148 million threshold — among them the Patriots, who would have around $24 million in cap space to work with even after accounting for that drastic a drop. Other clubs, meanwhile, would be staring into the financial abyss: the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints would be over a $148 million cap by a whooping $117 million and $101 million, respectively, next year.
The league wants to get an economic deal done before training camps universally open later this month, while the union reportedly does not feel the same rush to come to a conclusion. Either way, things could get interesting on a lot of fronts over the next few hours and days.