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Seven significant CBA changes for Packers as NFL players approve new deal

Tom Silverstein
Packers News

GREEN BAY - You may have heard that NFL players approved by a narrow margin the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) their union executive committee negotiated with the owners.

You probably know that it clears the way for a 17-game regular-season schedule beginning as early as 2021.

And you might have even heard the players agreed to the 10-year deal despite no increase from their 47% split of revenues this year and at most a bump to 48.5%, in future years, but only if the league goes to a 17-game schedule.

Those who have really studied it might even know vision care is being added to the players’ health care plan.

After getting through about 100 pages of the 439-page document, you start to notice things that haven’t been publicized and many of them have some kind of relationship with how Green Bay Packers players and management will do business over the next decade.

After a day in which the NFL gained 10 years of labor peace (and also said free agency and the league new year will begin Wednesday afternoon as scheduled despite coronavirus concerns), here are seven items of interest, with a comment on what they might mean for the Packers:

Training camps altered

As part of the sweetener for the players, the owners agreed to cut back on padded practices during camp.

Teams may conduct only 16 padded practices over the course of training camp – regardless of whether it’s a 17-game regular season, three-game preseason or 16-game regular season, five-game preseason (if you’re in the Hall of Fame game).

The first four days of practice are basically a minicamp. No live contact, no pads and no practice longer than two hours. On Days 3 and 4, the players can wear shells (the cushion shirts worn under shoulder pads).

After Day 4, there is a mandatory day off.

Once the pads come on, they can’t be worn more than three days in a row. And if they want to go three days in a row again, three calendar days must have passed before the cycle starts again. There can be no more than three three-day padded periods during camp.

When in pads, Oklahoma, half-line and confined one-on-one run blocking drills – all of which are exercises in toughness and not technique – are outlawed.

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur during practice at the Don Hutson Center on Wednesday, June 12, 2019 in Ashwaubenon, Wis.

What it means for the Packers: Coach Matt LaFleur had just two three-day padded periods last summer, but he did have one four-day period, so he’ll have to adjust.

For those fans who like to come out and see players getting after it, skip the first week of camp and make sure you pay attention to the schedule. If Mike McCarthy were still the coach, he’d be devastated not to be able to run his precious half-line drills.

LaFleur runs short practices so he shouldn’t have a problem with 2½-hour limits on padded practice.

Squad sizes increased

Starting this year, teams can dress 48 players instead of 46 as long as eight of the active players are offensive linemen. If it’s less than seven, then a team can suit up 47.

An even bigger change is that coaches can elevate two practice-squad players no later than the day before the game to increase the roster size to 55. One or both can be part of the game-day actives, play or not play and then be eligible to return to the practice squad Monday.

The club can only do this twice per season with any given player.

What it means for the Packers: Remember when tackle Bryan Bulaga woke up with the flu on the day of the divisional playoff game against Seattle?

LaFleur was lucky enough to have veteran Jared Veldheer available but he kept only seven offensive linemen active and Bulaga was one of them. He would have needed a day’s notice under the new agreement, but he could have had two practice-squad linemen on his game-day active list as protection.

The Packers continually dressed seven offensive linemen and were very lucky they didn’t suffer many injuries. Now they’ll be able to dress eight without affecting the rest of their roster.

Four-year qualifying offer

Clubs will have the option of signing their own free agents to one-year deals that won’t cost the full amount against the cap.

If a player has spent four or more years with the same club, he can sign a “four-year qualifying offer” for up to $1.25 million more than the applicable minimum wage and only count the minimum against the cap.

The club can sign two of these players but the total beyond their minimums can’t exceed $1.25 million combined.

These deals are perfect for a player who is hitting free agency after a down year and, rather than seeking more from another club, can return to his old one without having to play for the minimum.

What it means for the Packers: This would be a good strategy for outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell if he finds the free-agent market dry.

He wants to find a team where he’ll play more, but he’s probably going to have to settle for a one-year deal. If the best he can get is $1 million over minimum, maybe the Packers say come back for $1.91 million ($910,000 minimum plus $1 million). It would only cost them $910,000 against the cap.

They could do not do this with Veldheer, cornerback Tramon Williams, tight end Marcedes Lewis, tight end Jimmy Graham, or linebacker B.J. Goodson because they have not been with the team four consecutive years.

Funding 17 games

 Though the NFL is expected to add a playoff berth to each conference this year, it cannot go to 17 regular-season games until 2021 at the earliest.

The NFL gave in on adding an extra weekly payment to anyone who is under contract at the time, but what many people don’t know is that the money is not coming from the owners.

It’s coming from money that is used to fund the player performance pool. In other words, all the union is doing is shifting money from one place to another.

Maybe the players will notice when they receive $1.62 in player performance money.

As far as those weekly payments, the union fought to have checks spread out over 34 weeks instead of 17. The NFL would pay 1/17th of a player’s base salary each week during the season, but now they’ll pay 1/34th for 34 weeks.

The idea is that it will help players save their money, but for some it means they must wait to invest it and that could result in a loss of income.

What it means for the Packers: Players such as low-wage earners Allen Lazard and Chandon Sullivan could be the big losers in this switcheroo. Lazard received an additional $307,303.52 and Sullivan $235,301.19 because of the annual performance-based pay pool and now that money could go to pay for the 17th game.

The NFL did bump up the performance money from $8.5 million to $10 million for 2021, but how much is used for the 17th-game paychecks won’t become clear until much later.

Marijuana penalties reduced

The owners agreed to end suspensions for positive marijuana tests.

Players will be tested only during the first two weeks of training camp and the threshold for testing positive has been raised. Since players know when the testing is coming, there’s no reason for any of them to test positive.

What it means for the Packers: It’s not clear if this is retroactive for players who are facing suspension for pre-CBA agreement violations. It could be huge for outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith if he is facing punishment for his ticketing last year for possession and speeding. He admitted to police he had been smoking and pleaded no contest to the charges.

Teams can’t play tag as much

The CBA reduces the ability of teams to keep players off the free-agent market with franchise and transition tags.

Previously, a team had the ability to use either a franchise or transition tag or both on its own free agents at any given time. Now teams can use either the franchise or the transition, but not both at the same time.

This won’t have an immediate impact on teams heading into free agency Wednesday because the deadline for applying the tags has passed.

What it means for the Packers: Among the players set to become unrestricted free agents next season are nose tackle Kenny Clark, left tackle David Bakhtiari, running back Aaron Jones and center Corey Linsley.

If the Packers can’t get contract extensions done with them before the start of the next offseason, they’ll be missing that extra tag.

Holding out is expensive

The owners won a huge concession from the union regarding holdouts.

Fines for missing any mandatory events skyrocketed and unlike in previous years, they cannot be rescinded by the club. This is really bad for former first-round picks who got locked into the fifth-year option and don’t want to risk playing for far less than they’re worth.

Every other round comes with a four-year maximum, but first-rounders get punished for being so coveted and the ones who do well are penalized even more. Often their only recourse is to hold out lest they risk injury and the hope of hitting the jackpot.

The price for missing a mandatory minicamp: $15,515 for the first missed day, $31,030 for the second missed day and $46,540 for the third missed day.

The price for missing training camp: $50,000 per day.

What it means for the Packers: Clark is playing on a fifth-year option and though he has said he won’t hold out and general manager Brian Gutekunst has said it’s a priority to get a deal done, it’s not unusual for these things to breakdown.

The Packers now have the upper hand.