N.F.L. Owners Approve Bargaining Agreement and Await Vote by Players

The N.F.L.’s 32 teams moved quickly on Thursday to approve a new proposed labor agreement that includes a 17th regular-season game and an expanded playoff structure. Under the proposal, the playoffs would grow from 12 teams to 14.

Team owners, including John Mara of the Giants, the chairman of the N.F.L.’s management council, declined to comment as they exited a Manhattan hotel, where they had met for about two hours.

For the new deal to take effect, it would need to be approved by two-thirds of the 32 players’ union representatives and then receive a majority vote by all players. Those union representatives will meet via conference call on Friday, and it is unknown whether they will actually vote.

The league released a statement after the meeting, acknowledging that the current collective bargaining agreement, ratified in 2011 and effective through March 2021, would continue to define operations should the players not reach an approving vote on the new proposal by next week, when the league holds its scouting combine.

Although the statement suggested that teams would not consider amending their current proposal, negotiations have been less acrimonious than they were a decade ago, when owners took a hard-line stance in trying to claw back revenue before ultimately locking out players.

“Since the clubs and players need to have a system in place and know the rules that they will operate under by next week, the membership also approved moving forward under the final year of the 2011 C.B.A. if the players decide not to approve the negotiated terms,” the statement read.

Many players have been outspoken in their opposition to a 17-game regular season, including San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, a member of the N.F.L. Players Association executive committee. They have asserted that a 16-game season stresses their bodies enough.

“I don’t think it’s something that players are interested in, honestly,” Sherman recently said of the 17th game. “And if that’s the point they’re negotiating on, I think these negotiations are going to go on a lot longer than anticipated.”

On Thursday, Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette tweeted his dissatisfaction: “I disagree with the 17 games.”

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt — who, like Sherman, is one of the most prominent voices in the game — tweeted simply: “Hard no on that proposed CBA.”

The owners are determined to resolve this impasse soon, aiming to have a new deal in place before the league year begins on March 18.

With labor peace, the league can concentrate on negotiating with television networks and technology companies for the rights to broadcast and stream games, contracts that are expected to bring in a flood of new revenue. Already, more than half of the N.F.L.’s revenue comes from the sale of broadcast rights, and the owners’ insistence on adding a 17th game and expanding the playoffs is tied to goals for the bidding, given the increase in programmable content.

On Thursday, the N.F.L.P.A. president, Eric Winston, tweeted: “There has been a flood of information on the potential of a new cba. To our players: your player leadership has been working tirelessly. This is a business deal and no deal is finalized until the players vote.”

The players, when they vote, will have to weigh several factors, perhaps chiefly the question of whether they will be receiving enough concessions from the owners for agreeing to an extra regular-season game.

The proposal, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, calls for the players’ revenue share to increase from its current rate of about 47 percent to 48 percent or 48.5 percent if there is a 17th regular-season game. It would also provide ostensible improvements in player safety, like new limits on the demands of training camp, the introduction of a longer acclimation period in camp, better benefits, higher minimum salaries and expanded rosters.

The transformation of the N.F.L. calendar would mean a significant overhaul for a league that has not added games to the regular season since 1978 or teams to the postseason since 1990. In return for adding a 17th regular-season game, the league would eliminate a preseason game — dropping from four to three.

The expanded playoffs would have seven teams from each 16-team conference, with only the top-seeded team in each receiving a first-round bye, a move that some argue could make the end of the season more competitive. Currently, six teams from each conference advance to the postseason, with the top two earning byes.


Ken Belson contributed reporting.