If all goes as planned on Monday, the next steps in the process of negotiating a labor deal between the league and its players will unlock the gates and start the ball rolling on the 2011 season.
The players will meet on Monday and will vote on the agreement they received last Thursday evening from the owners. The deal has been tweaked over a weekend of negotiations, apparently to the satisfaction of both sides. There are plenty of issues that still must be decided, but those can’t happen until the recertification of the NFL Players Association.
That makes 100 percent certainty in reporting all the changes a bit of a gamble, especially when it comes to dividing up the $9 billion revenue pie each year. So we are going to stick with a few matters involving players and practice that have become known from the deal.
GAME-DAY ROSTER = 46
For the last 20 seasons (1991-2010) teams had a limit of 45 players that could be dressed for action in the game, plus a 46th player as the inactive third quarterback.
The new agreement pushes the number to 46, with no provision for the No. 3 quarterback. In essence, the same number of players will be available but that 46th guy does not have to be a quarterback. What we are likely to see is fewer teams taking three QBs into a game, instead using that last roster spot for players at other positions that may contribute on special teams or special packages on offense and defense.
It remains unclear why the league does not allow all 53 players to dress for the game. Those seven inactive players receive a game check, just like the guys who were on the game-day roster. It doesn’t save the teams any money. The most frequently heard reason that some of the football people are against dressing everyone is the idea that the better teams have better players and having 53 available is advantage for those teams.
That’s quite silly when you think about it. Good teams are good teams and it’s seldom because of players No. 47 through No. 53.
The highest number of players that have been active on game-day is 49, and that came in the 1982-84 seasons, due largely to the presence of the United States Football League.
OFF-SEASON PROGRAMS SHRINK TO 9 WEEKS
One of the factors that the players have complained about is the growing time commitment asked of them in the off-season. Some of that is understandable, given the physical demands of playing the game. Some of it is ridiculous, given the fact that these players have chosen football as their profession, and they should be willing to put in whatever time is needed to become the best in the game.
The new agreement shrinks the off-season to 9 weeks, or essentially two months and a week. That’s been broken down even further β 2 of those weeks can be used only for strength & conditioning, 3 weeks can be used for instruction and 4 weeks are available for OTAs. No details on whether those weeks must play out in that manner 2-3-4 or can be mix and matched, say a week of strength & conditioning, followed by a week of instruction and then two weeks for OTAs, then repeating the schedule over the last five weeks.
Those OTA weeks are broken up as well. Teams can have 3 OTAs in each of the first 2 weeks, for a total of six. In the last 2 weeks, there can be a total of 4 OTAs.
We’ve not seen any word on mini-camps, whether they remain mandatory for players and whether a new head coach gets to have a pair of mini-camps to prepare for the season.
These regulations will likely bring out the creativity of coaches in when and how they schedule this activity. I would expect that most off-season programs would begin in early May and then run through July 4th. Thus, the players not in the playoffs would have essentially four months off.
PUTTING LIMITS ON THE PADS FOR PRACTICE
In the past, there has never been any legislation in the league about the use of shoulder pads and other protective padding in practices. That was up to the head coach, and there were many different approaches in that fraternity. Some coaches never had the players in pads during the regular season. Others would use the pads once in the week, usually Wednesday or Thursday. A smaller minority would have their team in pads for both Wednesday and Thursday and sometimes even the shorter practices on Friday. That group included Chiefs head coach Todd Haley.
The new agreement now takes over when it comes to pads in practice. It starts with the opening of training camp, where there will be no pads for the first three days, and coaches can no longer require players to wear pads for two practices in the same day.
During the regular season, there can be only 11 practices in pads, and no more than one per week. Through the first 11 games of the regular season, they are allowed one pad practice per week. Over the last five weeks, they have a total of three padded practices and no more than one per week.
Apparently there is still debate on the issue of pads and shells. Pads are considered shoulder pads and all other pads required under the rules or because of an individual players physical standing (flak jackets for QBs and hip, thigh and knee pads for other players.) Shells are thin foam coverings that players wear over their shoulders and under their practice jersey. It provides some minimal protection, especially for linemen who tend to lean on each other in practices.
What’s apparent in these new regulations is that no football people were at the bargaining table for the NFL, because this agreement allows the players association even deeper into the coaching offices.
BYE WEEK PLANS
There’s never been any regulation on bye weeks until this deal. The players will receive at least 4 consecutive days off and one of those days must be a Saturday.