NFLPA president JC Tretter sends reminder of benefits players received in exchange for 17th game, asks for understanding from fans
News of the NFL’s owners’ decision to expand the regular season from 16 games to 17, which became official on Tuesday, sparked mixed responses from everyone from fans to league officials and players themselves.
In the days leading up to the vote, several players voiced their displeasure of the looming approval given the added wear and tear a 17th game would subject their bodies to. Meanwhile, some fans responded critically, saying players shouldn’t complain because of the luxurious lives that their profession affords them.
NFL Players Association president JC Tretter said he understood the concerns voiced by his fellow players and that he doesn’t fault any of them for begrudgingly gearing up for an extended season. He wants NFL players to remember that, in exchange for that 17th game, they have and will continue to receive improved working conditions and benefit packages thanks to provisions negotiated into the collective bargaining agreement that the owners and NFLPA hammered out last year.
Without agreeing last spring to a 17th game, the players would not have secured increases in salaries and revenue sharing, improved benefits and other provisions designed to help take care of their bodies, Tretter explained during an interview Wednesday with USA TODAY Sports.
“Simplistically, (the 17-game increase) was the main crux of the discussion of the last CBA,” said Tretter, a ninth-year veteran and starting center for the Cleveland Browns. “And if we take a step further back from that, prior to 2011, the NFL had the right to go to 18 games whenever they chose, and in the 2011 CBA, the union leadership at that time negotiated that right away from the NFL, where they couldn’t unilaterally increase games. Fast forward to now, about a decade later, they wanted to increase games, so they had to come back to us and negotiate to increase that game. There was no interest in going to 18 and the discussion started on ‘What would it cost to get to 17?’ That’s where you see the things in the deal that was signed.
“You see the substantial increase in minimum salaries, which over 60% of our guys get immediate raises, you see percent greater in revenue share, on top of that you get the media kicker based on these TV deals the NFL just went out and negotiated,” Tretter continued. “That percent revenue goes even higher based on how big those TV deals are, so that was part of it. We got better health and safety rules that will continue to change, and we’ve just done a lot of good things in the CBA. So, that was really the crux of the decision guys had: ‘Is there enough in this CBA that makes you willing to play a 17th game?’ In the end, it was a slim margin but more players said yes, that it was worth it and once the NFL negotiated for the right to go to 17, it should’ve been everybody’s expectation that it was going to come.”
In this Dec. 8, 2019, file photo, Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Cleveland. (Photo: David Richard, AP)
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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday the league, by virtue of the owners’ vote to move to 17 games, now can offer its fans an "enhanced" product.
Tretter said his concern centers not on if the league has improved its product, but instead on how the union can continue to ensure that players will be taken care of.
He hopes the league will learn from the provisions put in place last season to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 and continue to apply similar practices to promote player safety.
Tretter pointed out that despite an offseason program conducted virtually rather than featuring weeks of on-field practices and a scaled back training camp, which featured a longer-ramp up period and no preseason games, the quality of football did not suffer.
The NFL's players experienced a 23% decrease in time missed with injury, a 30% reduction in concussions, the lowest figures of ACL tears and lower extremity strains in five years and a 45% decrease in heat-related illness, according to NFLPA data. All of the improved figures stemmed from reduced on-field time during the offseason, training camp and practice week, Tretter believes.
Meanwhile, Tretter pointed out that games remained compelling, and more teams found themselves in the playoff hunt late in the season as the league expanded its postseason field.
Tretter said discussions continue between the NFL and NFLPA on how to structure offseason programs and training camps, and what COVID-19 protocols to continue and/or modify. It’s expected that preseason games will return. But rather than four games, teams will play three each.
The NFL on Wednesday sent a memo to teams telling them to plan on conduct meetings virtually when offseason programs begin April 19. The memo did advise teams that some in-person workouts will be permitted during the spring.
Tretter said discussions between the union and NFL on how to ensure greater player safety and more healing time will continue.
Tretter refused to shrug off criticisms from fans over players’ concerns about how a 17th game will impact their health and safety. He has heard plenty, but he hopes that non-athletes realize that football players really want the same thing in their working conditions as any working person does.
“It’s always a tough discussion and it’s not just football players or athletes. All across different occupations,” Tretter said. “We fall into this trap of instead of pushing everybody up, and trying to push everybody to get better wages, better working conditions, better benefits — instead of doing that, too often, publicly, people try to bring everybody back. 'I don't’ have that so you shouldn’t have it.’ No, our thing is, ‘You should have that, too.’ So, instead of pulling everybody back, instead of pushing people forward, that’s every benefit: 401k, what does your company offer? Instead of, ‘I don’t have that. You guys shouldn’t be complaining. You guys have it good enough,’ no.
"Let’s make your situation better. That should be the outlook, and that should be the bigger conversation than just athletes to non-athletes. That should be teachers to truck-drivers and across occupations. It should be way more, ‘We’re workers fighting for better conditions, better wages and better benefits. We’re all working together for better conditions, wages and benefits.’”
Follow USA TODAY Sports NFL columnist Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.
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