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Why NFL players should start saving their money now for a potential 2021 lockout

Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz went through the CBA negotiations and lockout in 2011. Here’s his advice on what to do this time around.

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

After a contentious labor lockout in 2011, the NFL and the NFLPA agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement that would last 10 seasons. Since that agreement, there has been relative peace between the two sides. But as we near the end of the current CBA, there are warning signs the next round of negotiations in 2021 will be just as heated, as they should be.

I’m in the rare position of having direct knowledge of the previous work stoppage. I was old enough — entering my fourth season — to remember and most importantly, understand it all. I know how we prepared, or didn’t, and how we ended up agreeing to the current CBA. I’ve been a vocal critic of parts of the deal and the hostility between NFLPA leader DeMaurice Smith and the NFL. Mostly, I’d like a better working environment.

We are now nearing the time for a new round of bargaining. Recently, it was reported Smith sent an email to all agents warning them of a potential “work stoppage of at least a year of length.” Details of the entire email can be found here.

This is the first official warning sign that we are headed for a lockout in 2021.

NFL players need to prepare for the worst

This was a necessary announcement, and I hope players start to listen.

The current CBA is outstanding for ownership (that’s not to say players don’t have advantages from it as well), and as I see it, they have the leverage right now. In order for players to get more, the owners need to give more to them, either in the form of dollars, benefits, or possibly more control of player punishment.

The leverage players have in the next round of negotiations is the same as always: sitting out games. Plain and simple. The owners’ bottom line is money. If they lose money, players gain leverage.

Money is also the issue with sitting out games. Just as owners lose money, so do the players. A player’s base salary gets paid each week of the regular season. If there are no games, they don’t get paid. Rightfully so, owners believe they can outlast the players, at least early on, if no money is being made on either side.

However, this is still the players’ leverage and they must use it. The NFLPA can remind players, agents, family members, and the media about the need to save money, but it doesn’t always get through to the players.

Why is it hard for some players to save money?

Why does it seem like a hollow request? For starters, there are 1,700 members in the players association. They all range in NFL experience and salary. For the most part, the younger players don’t understand as much about the dynamics of a labor negotiation and also don’t have the money to sit out for an entire season.

Careers are so short that missing out for an entire season of salary is a tough sell, especially when some of these players might not see a large payday or use the extra benefits players might receive in a better CBA.

The NFLPA needs to get those young players on board. Older players tend to be OK with missed paychecks for the greater good because more of them are well off. They also understand the process of the CBA and the post-career perks that can be had.

But, not all players are money savers. As mentioned above, players get their base salaries paid during the season only. Unfortunately, not all players save their money responsibly during the season and are often in need of that first paycheck in September.

During the last round of negotiations, there were multiple reports of veteran players taking out high-interest loans just to get by. In order for the players as a whole to buy into the same idea, the union needs a plan for money during the lockout.

The players need to know what the plan is

It’s smart for the NFLPA leaders to start getting the word out now about the possibility of losing pay for a better CBA. It’s prudent of them to hammer the players over the head with this message. But, the message must also contain a plan for what they want out of the next CBA.

This tweet from Joe Banner sums it up:

In 2011, the players union withheld dues for years and passed those out during the spring months of the lockout. After those months, no money was coming to us. However, it was reported after the deal was struck that the NFLPA had bought insurance for each player up to $200,000 if there had been a lockout during the season.

We weren’t told about this until after this report. I assume the NFLPA kept it quiet so the NFL wouldn’t know what cards we had. On the other hand, knowing money was coming in might have been helpful.

Hopefully the plan of action for this upcoming labor negotiation is shared fully with the players. I sure hope we don’t have a prolonged work stoppage in 2021 but if we do, I’m happy the NFLPA is starting the process of getting the players ready for the battle ahead.