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How the new NFL CBA will affect the Detroit Lions

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A look at the most important points of the CBA as it impacts the Lions.

NFL Combine - Day 2

The NFL players voted to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement by a narrow margin, ensuring that there will be no lockout for the next 10 years. The new CBA is long and complicated, but ESPN’s Dan Graziano has a very detailed yet simple breakdown of the biggest changes coming to the league. I highly recommend reading this if you’re interested in the topic.

The big news items are the expanded season to 17 games (which will happen in 2021 at the earliest) and the extra playoff team per conference (taking place in 2020), but there are a lot more intricate details of the CBA that will have a huge impact on the league.

Obviously, the new CBA will impact every team equally, but here are the most important points for the Detroit Lions in the immediacy.

Fifth-year options fully guaranteed... starting in 2021

The Lions face an interesting decision with 2017 first-round pick Jarrad Davis. His inconsistent play has been frustrating for fans, but coaches continue to sing praises for his play.

Unfortunately for Davis, this new CBA rule won’t kick in until next season. The new rule states that once a team exercises a fifth-year option on their first-round pick, that contract becomes immediately guaranteed. You may remember that the Lions exercised Eric Ebron’s fifth-year option, but ended up cutting him before the start of that league year, meaning they were not on the hook for any of that $8.25 million. Under the new rules, they would still have to pay that money.

For Davis, the Lions could theoretically follow the same path for Ebron: exercise his fifth year option this year—worth an estimated $10 million—and if they decide to change their mind, they can cut him prior to the start of the 2021 league year at no cost.

The deadline for Detroit’s decision on Davis’ fifth-year option is early May. Detroit’s first-round picks since Davis—Frank Ragnow and T.J. Hockenson—will be subject to the new rules.

Darius Slay’s holdout a little less likely

The new CBA came down hard on veteran players that are thinking about holding out for a new contract. Here’s a snippet from Graziano’s piece:

A “player playing under a contract signed as a veteran who fails to report to his club’s preseason training camp on time or reports and leaves the club for more than five days” cannot have his fines waived by the team upon return and will not earn an accrued season for that season.

Though that rule does not hold for players on rookie contracts, it does for a guy like Darius Slay. Slay still has one year remaining on his deal, and he has made pretty clear he’s looking for a new contract. The Lions have held off on trading him, but they don’t seem too enthusiastic about coming to an agreement on an extension either.

These new rules obviously give the Lions a little more leverage as Slay will see significantly more punishment if he decides to hold out into training camp.

Big roster changes

One of the more understated changes in the new CBA is the impact on rosters, including the practice squad. Here’s a quick breakdown of the significant changes:

  • Practice squad roster increasing from 10 to 12 immediately. Will be increased to 14 by the year 2022.
  • Gameday rosters will increase from 46 to 48. Of the two extra spots, one has to be an offensive lineman.
  • Twice a week, a team can promote a practice squad player to the active roster without a corresponding move to make space. Yes, that means a 55-man roster is now possible.
  • Additionally, players promoted from the practice squad (to make a 55-man roster) can now be sent back down to the practice squad without the danger of being placed on waivers. That is capped at twice per player, however.
  • Practice squads now have two spots for players with any amount of experience. Yes, even 10-year veterans.

Training camp intensity going way down

Lions head coach Matt Patricia gained a lot of attention—and some criticism—for the way he ran his training camp with a lot of intensity. The new CBA, however, will severely limit the way he can approach Detroit’s training camp schedule.

Per Graziano:

There will be a limit of 16 padded practices in camp, and no more than three in a row. (The previous limit was 28, and no restrictions on consecutive days except built-in days off.) There will be a five-day “acclimation period” at the start of camp with restrictions on the types of activities permitted. After the acclimation period, players can be on the field for no more than four hours per day between their two practices, and no practice can last longer than 2.5 hours. Players are not allowed to be at the team facility for more than 12 hours in any given day, and that number decreases in subsequent seasons

It will be interesting to see how this rule change impacts the level of play in the regular seasons. With fewer padded practices, will players be physically ready for full-intensity games? Will players actually be more healthy going into the regular season, having not worn their bodies down during August?

Physical offseason contact has been trending downwards for years, and that has frustrated NFL coaches in their ability to get players game-ready for the regular season. But it’s still unclear if that will result in any visible change in quality of play.