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What happens to player contracts if the Falcons can’t play this season?

Fact: Thomas Dimitroff is happy, he knows it, but he won’t clap his hands

NFL Combine - Day 1 Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The notion that a global pandemic can, in fact, stop an NFL season resonates more and more each day. There’s an endless list of things that can (and will) go wrong if professional football games are played this fall. That said, the NFL apparently hasn’t gotten the memo yet; and they continue to piece together various perceived remedies, hoping they’ll be ready to play games when the time comes.

From scratching the first and fourth preseason games to the possibility of a 16 player practice squad, it should shock no one that the NFL is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to make this thing happen. But if they can’t make it happen, what happens to player contracts? This is not just a game for the players that are the face of the Falcons franchise. It’s their livelihood.

There are a number of places one might look in pursuit of this answer: the player’s contract, the plain language of the CBA—those are theoretically two good places to start. But you won’t find what you’re looking if you stop your search there, because they are shockingly quiet regarding “force majeure” (Act of God) scenarios. And because this is the National Football League and most salaries aren’t guaranteed, we can rest assured that the owners are going to do whatever they can to maximize their profits while shirking their moral and legal obligations to the players.

Your average NFL contract lays out a simple scenario for how a player gets paid. Base salaries are doled out over the course of the season, which is why players receive “game checks,” a prorated portion of their base salary. And then there are bonuses, like signing bonuses and workout bonuses.

From there, it’s really quite simple. If a player can’t attend workouts, then their workout bonus will never get paid out. If the season is shortened, players won’t be paid their full base salaries in exchange for the shortened season. Instead, they will only make what they otherwise would’ve made under the aforementioned “game check” scenario, except with less games. For example, an 8 game season would result in a player only receiving half of their base salary.

But this isn’t just about lost salary. What happens to that particular year in the contract? Is it just over? Is the player simply that much closer to free agency? How would this all factor into an individual player’s accrued season determination? The answer is ... a less than clear. We just don’t know yet. Those are issues the league will have to iron out with the player’s association when the time comes. Given how difficult it was for MLB to come to an agreement with their players association, it’s really anyone’s guess how easily they’d settle on mutually agreeable terms. I’m less than optimistic.

So this is exactly why everyone involved—the players and the league—will want to see this season move forward with a full 16 game slate. The natural consequence of this financial reality is disturbing: the limits of player safety will be pushed.

Your thoughts, Falcoholics?