The NFL and the NFLPA settled sometimes contentious negotiations Friday to pave the way for the 2020 season, agreeing to no preseason, player opt-out clauses and salary-cap reductions to handle a revenue shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Player representatives voted to approve the new deal 29-3 on Friday afternoon, according to the NFLPA.
The Vikings, with veterans scheduled to report to training camp Tuesday, will ease into the season under a new three-week acclimation period. Coronavirus testing, physicals and an eight-day strength and conditioning program are required before the first practice can be held Aug. 12. Padded practices, limited to 14 sessions (down from 16), can start Aug. 17.
A long acclimation period was a concern for players who, because of the coronavirus, have not had in-person, on-field workouts together in several months.
Vikings rookies and quarterbacks arrived at the team’s facility in Eagan on Thursday to get the first of two coronavirus tests. Players and staff must test negative twice, separated by three days, to enter the building.
Preseason games were eliminated. The regular season is scheduled to begin Sept. 10.
According to multiple media reports, players can opt out of the season and get a stipend in a two-tier system, one for high-risk medical cases and another for players without. High-risk players can receive up to $350,000 and an accrued season for opting out, according to ESPN. Those without qualifying medical reasons can opt out and get up to $150,000.
Financial losses will be spread across salary caps for the next five years. No changes will be made to the current salary cap of $198.2 million per team. But there is a 2021 salary cap floor of $175 million, down potentially tens of millions from projections before the pandemic.
Shrinking salary caps could further tighten belts of front offices like the Vikings’, as contracts were structured expecting increased cap space in future years. But quarterback Kirk Cousins’ cap hit leaps next year to $31 million, which would account for 17.7% of a $175 million cap. Players with less financial security will feel the pinch when teams look to cut costs.
All rosters must be trimmed from 90 players to 80 by Aug. 16. Front offices can cut players early, as rules mandate only 80 players allowed in a facility at once, or coaches could split their squads for workouts. The Vikings have 87 players under contract as of Friday.
With fewer opportunities available for lower-rung players, the NFL increased the size of practice squads from 12 players to 16, which gives four additional jobs to young prospects during the regular season.