DENVER — The number 17 has always been an odd figure, but never has it been so divisive.
As the NFL is about to enter the final year of its collective bargaining agreement, adding a 17th game to the regular-season has become the primary point of discussion (and contention) between owners and players, and even players and players.
“Big split with whether it’s going to happen or not,’’ said Broncos’ player rep and kicker Brandon McManus. “And what raises up (in terms of incentives) for us to get the 17th game.
“There are definitely teams that are very adamant about not doing 17. And there are teams that if you get to a certain point with money and benefits, work rules with training camp and in-season, then 17 is a possibility. That’s where we left it.”
On behalf of his Broncos teammates, McManus attended the players union meetings both the Thursday before the Super Bowl in Miami, and this past Thursday in Los Angeles.
Up for discussion was the owners’ first substantive proposal that called for a 17-game season (that would begin in 2021 at the earliest, 2023 at the latest) and reportedly an increase of the players’ share of revenues from 47 percent to 48.5 percent.
With the league reportedly generating an estimated $16 billion in annual revenues, a 1.5 percent increase would come out to added $240 million in annual payout to players – or $141,509 per 53-man roster player.
On Friday, McManus started reaching out to each of his teammates to de-brief them on the owners’ proposal and the union body’s reaction to it.
“I’ve heard back from 10 to 20 percent of the locker room so far,’’ he said. “I’m just de-briefing them on what’s going on so far. I couldn’t give you an answer of where anyone is at yet.
“There are some people in the locker room I’m sure are willing to play a 17th game if you’re talking about a minimum(-salaried) person who is trying to make more money. Compared to an older guy who has already made money and his contract is set, type deal, I’m not sure they would want to play another game.
“So my goal as the rep is to educate that older player who has more money as to the betterment of the league, the future, what’s best for the players of the future.’’
McManus said the players union must next decide how to counter the owners’ proposal. Either come up with a proposal that seeks small gains to the existing CBA with a 16-game schedule, or go for a much more aggressive slice of the revenue pie in exchange for a 17-game schedule.
“Health and safety has been the biggest thing I’d say of the past five years,’’ McManus said. “Adding a 17th game … obviously you could reduce a preseason game but how many starters are playing in the fourth preseason game?
“You’re adding a week of practice. Not that you add a ton but it is a body of work on the field. Do you add another bye week with a 17th game or how does that look? Does it shorten the offseason program for teams?’’
Like any good rep, McManus is in the stage of gathering information and then distributing the information to his Broncos teammates in as concise and understandable manner possible.
His personal feelings on a 17-game schedule?
“My opinion is I don’t like the 17th game,’’ he said. “I think maybe adding an extra playoff team or playoff week might be good. The playoffs in the NFL is one of the most exciting times in all of sports. I think there has to be a lot (incentive) in order to add a 17th game.”
There seems to be a desire, if not a hard deadline, for the players and owners to reach accord on a new CBA by the start of free agency on March 18 so all parties have a better idea on how to conduct business for the 2020 season.
McManus himself has a $1 million option guarantee on his $3 million salary for 2020 that the Broncos must decide on whether to exercise by March 18.
Given there are so many other issues to negotiate besides adding a 17th game, there may have to be some round-the-clock, serious negotiating for a collective compromise to be reached within the next five weeks.
“I’ve seen reports that it’s going to get done,’’ McManus said. “I truly can’t fathom that.’’
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