The deal is done between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. As to the COVID-19-related operational adjustments, the agreements has taken the form of a 13-page letter, which by the plain language of the first paragraph encompasses not only the 2020 season — but also the 2021 season.
The document, a copy of which PFT has obtained, contains several references to the potential application of the rules to 2021.
For example, the changes to the practice squad set forth in paragraph No. 1 of the agreement (16 per team, with up to six having no limitations on the number of accrued seasons) expressly include a statement that the “special Practice Squad rules for the 2020 League Year” will apply if the NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 protocols remain in effect for 2021.
Also, paragraph No. 12 sets forth the various details regarding opt-outs for 2020. Section (a)(2)(xiii) specifies that, “if conditions are substantially similar to those in effect today due to COVID-19, requiring continued application of special protocols for the 20201 season,” opt-out rights will apply in 2021. The NFL and NFLPA are required to “negotiate in good faith to agree upon the specific terms and eligibility criteria to exercise such opt out rights based upon subsequent events.”
One specific aspect of the letter does not expressly limit its application to 2020. Paragraph No. 3 documents the ability to have unlimited players return from injured reserve or the non-football injury/illness list after missing three games. However, paragraph No. 3 contains no language limiting the device to 2020. Based on the opening paragraph of the letter, this dramatic expansion of the IR-return concept arguably applies both to 2020 and 2021.
Regardless of the contents of the letter agreement, the two sides are permitted to reach other agreements, at any time. The overriding point for now is that the NFL and the NFLPA already are contemplating the possibility that this season’s unusual protocols will apply to next season, too, from practice squad changes to IR changes to opt-out rights.
At least one of those protocols — the expanded use of return from IR and NFI — potentially already extends to 2021.