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Would NFL players actually go on strike in 2021?

It’s going to take a lot, but it’s the only real opportunity for NFL players to change the system.

The current collective bargaining agreement runs through the 2020 season, but the first six years of the labor agreement has hardly been peaceful. We’ve seen multiple lawsuits over a variety of topics, and plenty of harsh words about the state of things.

During the recent NBA free agency period, there was a lot of comparison between NFL and NBA contracts. NBA players get fully guaranteed deals, and with a smaller roster of players, salaries end up higher than in the NFL. And when Pablo Sandoval was recently cut by the Boston Red Sox and still owed $50 million, there was plenty of chatter.

NFL owners are not going to give up the chip of guaranteed salaries for nothing, and I can’t imagine them giving it up for most anything at this point. Salaries in all four major sports are artificially suppressed to one degree or another, but the NFL in particular is more so. That combined with non-guaranteed contracts leave NFL players holding the bag compared to their fellow athletes.

Earlier this week, Richard Sherman was on ESPN at the ESPYs pre-show, and he talked about labor negotiations. Sherman was blunt, and on point with what NFL players have to do to improve their financial position.

“If we want to get anything done, players have to be willing to strike,” Sherman said. “That’s the thing that guys need to 100 percent realize. You’re going to have to miss games, you’re going to have to lose some money if you’re willing to make the point, because that’s how MLB and NBA got it done.”

Sherman also talked about the need for players to look at shorter contracts that offer more guarantees rather than the longer deals that sound big, but are mostly hot air without much in guarantees after the first year or two. And even if a player does stick around for five or six years, the deal will likely have been restructured down the road anyway.

A strike would certainly not guarantee players get more guarantees, or bigger average salaries, or whatever. Most owners have a lot less to lose in not seeing games. Most NFL owners are rich through other means, with football revenue ending up as just a drop in the bucket for their financial portfolio. And even those who are getting wealthier primarily because of football are likely in that position because of a new stadium that will provide all sorts of cushion between now and a potential 2021 strike.

That being said, will we see the players strike in 2021? The CBA includes a no-strike provision for the length of it, but once it expires at the end of the 2020 league year, all bets are off. There are a lot of players making a wide range of salaries, and given the shorter average NFL career, it’s not an easy ask of a lot of players. Will they be able to organize something between now and then and force some kind of significant change to the current model?