Player salaries in the next few years will rise moderately because most media agreements are graduated, with the first year of a new deal worth only marginally more than the last year of an expiring deal. The salary cap for the 2021 season was set at $182.5 million, down 8 percent from the 2020 season.
The team owners are expected to formally approve the additional game at their annual meeting in late March, when there is likely to be little dissent. Once the additional game is approved, players and team owners will work out the calendar logistics, which could include eliminating one of the four preseason games teams are required to play and adding a second bye week to each team’s schedule.
Many other competitive issues will also have to be resolved, as extending the regular season by one game could also affect other fixtures in the N.F.L. calendar that were adjusted last season because of the coronavirus pandemic. The owners voted on Dec. 16 to make the extra game an interconference matchup so as not affect playoff tiebreakers. But still unresolved are the timing of off-season workouts, the start dates of training camps and the regular season’s start and end dates.
The league was able to complete its 2020 season in full and on schedule in part because it worked hand-in-hand with the N.F.L. Players Association to hammer out Covid-19 protocols and a raft of other rules.
The union’s executive director, DeMaurice Smith, has said that no decision would be made “without an eye to what we’ve learned this year.” “March and April of 2021 is not going to look like March and April of 2018 and 2019,” he added.
The labor deal also included an expanded playoff format, with an extra team added in each conference, more limited training camps and a relaxation of the rules governing the use of marijuana.
Many players initially balked at the idea of a longer regular season, which they said increased their chances of injury. But the team owners were eager to expand the regular season as a way to entice the league’s national television partners to pay more for broadcast rights.
All of the N.F.L.’s national media agreements — which together have an average annual value of nearly $8 billion — were set to expire over the next two years. ESPN’s deal to show Monday night games was slated to end after the 2021 season, while agreements with CBS, Fox, NBC, DirecTV, Verizon and Amazon were in place through the 2022 season.