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NFL Proposal Divides Big Names And No-Names, Columnist Writes

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you love something, more of it is good, right? But if that thing is football, the answer isn't so easy. NFL players are getting ready to vote on a new collective bargaining agreement that would extend their regular season by one more game - so total, 17. What's one more game, you ask? Means more money for owners and players; good for fans. A win-win-win, right? But the proposal has revealed a class struggle between the NFL's biggest stars and the guys whose names are way down the roster. Here to tell us more is Jarrett Bell. He's an NFL columnist for USA Today and a former ESPN contributor. Thanks so much for coming in, Jarrett.

JARRETT BELL: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So this idea of adding a 17th game to the regular season - explain the objections. Why isn't this just something everyone thinks is a good idea?

BELL: Well, if you're a player and you play 16 regular season games, it's a toll on your body. I mean, one game is a toll on your body. Extending the season has been something that a lot of NFL players have resisted for a long time. And when you look at the league and how health and safety and injury risk and the long-term effects of that has become more and more of an issue, especially as we've learned more about head injuries and the long-term impact of that...

MARTIN: Right.

BELL: ...It's really kind of counter to the whole let's-make-the-game-safer (laughter) argument, when you think about it.

MARTIN: But it's not so simple as all the players saying, no, this is bad; it's bad on our bodies. There are some players who want the extra money, right? And that's revealed this class struggle that you've written about.

BELL: Oh, totally. I mean, it's a huge impact for players who are at the bottom of the roster. When you think about the big names that we all know in the NFL - Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers - this really doesn't materially affect them in terms of how much more they can make. But most of the players in the NFL last only three years or less.

You talk about a third of the players in the league at the bottom of the roster, who are on minimum salaries - this deal will give guys who are in their first and second years tremendous raises. If you're a player who might only last three years and you could collect an extra $300,000 over two years, that's an enormous incentive to, you know, really get on board with this deal.

MARTIN: Is there a chance that this ends in a lockout?

BELL: Yeah, I think there's a chance that this could end in a lockout because if you go back to the bargaining table, one, you're going to have a new NFL Players Association president, and a couple of the players who have been mentioned as potential presidents, both of them have come out and been adamant about no 17 games. The owners have been adamant - we won't do this deal unless there are 17 games. So if it doesn't get done now, you go back to the bargaining table, and who knows where that can go.

MARTIN: All right, Jarrett Bell. He writes about the NFL for USA Today. Thank you so much for talking with us.

BELL: I appreciate you having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLACK MILK'S "PLAY THE KEYS (INSTRUMENTAL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.