AS the NFL combine gets underway this week in Indianapolis, one of the big storylines surrounding the league's annual redraft dog and pony show has nothing (or very little, at least) to do with the NFL Draft. The NFL's owners plan to meet with the NFL Players Association to discuss the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement proposal, a plan that the owners approved late last week, but the players have yet to approve. The current CBA expires after the 2020 season.
The proposed CBA would mean more money for everybody, especially with another round of television contracts set to come due in the near future. There would be more money for the rank and file, more benefits for retired players, and possibly more regular season games and more playoff teams each season. More, more, more! If you want a summary of the CBA proposal the owners approved, here you go:
Here’s the full NFL CBA proposal fact sheet sent out to players and agents tonight pic.twitter.com/QUtSbvN02C— Master (@MasterTes) February 21, 2020
The day the owners approved this current iteration of the CBA, they made a very public display of their approval that was seemingly designed, in part, to put the public pressure on the players to approve it, as is, which is always going to be a tough thing to push through because the relationship has been toxic between NFL owners and players for so long. Of the major team sports, no ownership constituency has dominated its players in CBA negotiations quite like the NFL owners.
Perhaps it was with that history in mind that J.J. Watt posted this tweet shortly after the owners announced THEIR approval of the new CBA, well before the NFL's 32 player representatives had a chance to discuss it the next day:
Hard no on that proposed CBA.— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) February 21, 2020
Yikes! One of the most prominent, well paid, and likely influential players took a gigantic Twitter dump over the results of weeks and months of negotiations. Well, needless to say, Watt's stance on the CBA has been a big, big topic in league circles, and if you follow former player Ross Tucker on Twitter (or listen to him on my radio show on Friday mornings), then you know J.J. Watt did not make a lot of friends with that tweet:
3 CBA thoughts after talking with a few players:— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) February 24, 2020
1. NFL's statement & subsequent PR push/leaks were a tactical error: Players felt backed into a corner.
2. If no new CBA for 2020 it'll cost a lot of "rank & file" players a lot of $.
3. No love lost for JJ Watt after his tweet
If you're a Texans fan, who thinks the sun rises and sets around anything number 99, then you may find it hard to believe that an opinion (a strong one, by the way) from J.J. Watt would ruffle anybody's feathers, but this one has, and here are the reasons why:
There is no specificity for why he doesn't like the CBA proposal
It's a little but reckless for someone of Watt's stature to just send out a six word disapproval on such a nuanced thing. This is an agreement that is going to affect thousands of player lives, past, present, and future, and Watt is committing one of the great sins of Twitter — railing against something without explaining what's wrong with it. So not only does it create a negative vibe against the CBA (which is likely his goal), but it leaves it open for us to wonder what exactly he doesn't like about it. If I had to guess, one thing might be how the NFL plans to handle the 17th game with players under existing 16 game contracts. Basically, the owners plan to cut players a 17th game check equal to the lesser of a normal game check or $250,000. Well, Watt makes around $1 million per game, so he'd be providing his labor for a 17th game at a steep discount. Who knows what else he doesn't like, because Watt hasn't specified.
Twitter allows other players to pile on without discussion
The problem with Twitter is the whole medium is kindling for hot takes, follow up takes, anger, and rage. Watt's tweet was immediately retweeted by San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman (who at least, to his credit, has been specific and vocal throughout the CBA negotiation process) as follows:
Leadership! I am with you! Please communicate with your team rep. https://t.co/JucZbwqoa2— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) February 21, 2020
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Here's the problem with that tweet — Watt isn't showing "leadership" by giving the CBA a six word "hard no." He's just a prominent player voicing very unspecific disapproval. Leadership is about setting an example, being reasonable, standing up for what you believe in a sensible, well planned way. Watt knows this as well as anybody.
Lots of people have been working on this thing for a long time
If I had to guess, when Tucker says in his tweet about that there is "no love lost for J.J. Watt after his tweet," my guess is that the anger toward Watt is twofold. First, you have player representatives from all 32 teams (like his current teammate, Brennan Scarlett), along with union leadership (like his former teammate, NFLPA president Eric Winston) who have been working for months to arrive at a CBA that works best for all parties in the union, not an easy thing to do considering the drastic gap in lifestyle between rank and file players and stars like Watt. I would imagine there's a lot of "Hey, listen Watt, if you hate it enough to tweet vague missiles at the CBA, why not come to the negotiating sessions, if you can fit it in around hosting Saturday Night Live."
Doesn't represent the rank and file
The other reason why there may be "no love lost for J.J. Watt after his tweet" is because this CBA is life changing for hundreds and hundreds of players who will never make a fraction of what Watt has already made (about $85 million, in take home pay from the Texans). The facets of the deal like bumping up minimum salaries by $90,000 per year, like expanding the 401k plan, those things are pocket change to Watt, but to guys whose careers will last two or three years at the most, those are the next eggs that will be the foundation for their families during life after football. In short, without an explanation, Watt comes off as selfish and tone-deaf to the plight of NFL short timers, which is the ultimate irony, because Watt's history shows he's one of the most charitable and selfless people in the league.