The line in the sand between the NFL and NFLPA appears to be the owners' insistence on adding a 17th game to the regular season.
Peter King of NBC Sports spoke to "a person on the players' side" who acknowledged a work stoppage is likely if the players fail to ratify the new collective bargaining agreement that's on the table.
"If players vote no, it's simple: there will either be a lockout in 2021 or we will strike. We all want 16 games, and I understand that. But there is no 16-game option. If we want 16 games, we have to be prepared for a job action," the person with familiarity with negotiations said.
NFL owners have already voted in favor of the new 10-year agreement, which would give the league an option to add an extra week to the regular season. The NFLPA executive committee voted 6-5 against recommending the proposal, but player reps voted 17-14 (with one abstention) to send the proposal to players for a unionwide approval.
More than half of the league's constituency has to vote in favor of the CBA for it to be approved.
King noted that ownership has decided it will only move forward with a CBA that includes a 17th regular-season game and two additional wild-card matchups. The league plans to use those new games in broadcast rights negotiations, with hopes of massively expanding the revenue pool.
Player pushback on the deal has largely focused on the 17th game, with many focusing on safety issues.
"Health and Wellness of our men is always the most important aspect," Richard Sherman tweeted. "There is no price you can put on that and that is why I Voted No. I respect the Men that have been part of this discussion and stood up for their locker rooms."
The current collective bargaining agreement runs through March 2021. Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler of ESPN noted owners would "probably" pull back on the agreement and wait until next offseason if players refuse to approve the new deal.
It would create a situation wherein both sides are playing chicken, similar to the 2011 lockout. Neither the owners nor the players want to miss any actual games. The owners are motivated to get a deal done so they can provide a united front to television partners, who would be more likely to break the bank in negotiations if the NFL can guarantee labor peace.