They left it to the very last minute, but MLS and the Players' Union hammered out the framework for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement on Wednesday, just about 48 hours before the season was scheduled to kickoff. The only details of the pact that have been formally released are the length, which will run five years.
But lots of details have been swimming around on the Internet. This is a collection of what we've been able to glean.
Wait, did you say "framework"? Does that mean the deal isn't really done?
Exactly. The players and league have effectively agreed on the major items, but the details still need to be finalized and the players still need to vote to formally ratify the deal.
Is there any doubt the players will vote to ratify?
That's always possible, but it would be pretty crazy for the players to reject the contract assuming there are no shenanigans.
What if they did?
Well, I don't know. I suppose they'd have to go back to the bargaining table and try to figure something out.
OK, let's assume it's ratified. Did the players get free agency?
Kinda. Some veteran players will be allowed to choose where they play once they've turned 28 years old and spent eight years in MLS.
How is that not free agency?
Well, one of the hallmarks of free agency is players entering an open market and being allowed to choose whichever team is willing to pay him the most money. This system will dramatically limit how much money a player can get by switching teams.
Based on most reports: Players who are already making at least $200,000 a year can only receive a 15 percent bump; players who make between $100,000-$200,000 can get up to a 20 percent raise; and players making less than $100,000 can get 25 percent more.
What if their current team wants to give them a bigger raise?
Let's allow Alexi Lalas explain:
I’m told part of new #MLSCBA is carve-out for certain players "outperforming" their contract. New FA capped $ increase rules wouldn’t apply.— Alexi Lalas (@AlexiLalas) March 5, 2015
How many players would even qualify as free agents?
This database listed 84 players that would be eligible by next year, but not all of those players are still in the league. There should be about 600 players on MLS rosters this year, so that's potentially 13 percent of the league. There are five Sounders on that list: Brad Evans, Chad Barrett, Chad Marshall, Kenny Cooper and Troy Perkins.
How much did the salary cap go up?
Bob Foose, the head of the MLS Players' Union, said it will go up to $3.74 million 2015 and go up about 7 percent every year after that. That may or may not include an influx of allocation money that the league gave every team this year. But if we're to take Foose at this word, the salary cap would be about $4.75 million in the final year of the pact.
What about extra Designated Player spots?
There's been no word on that, but those aren't collectively bargained anyway. There are also rumors of some kind of "super-max" DP spot, which would be reserved for players who make more than the max cap hit but less than $750,000. Jeffrey Carlisle wrote about it here and Taylor Twellman has at least suggested it's still a thing. I wouldn't hold my breath on that being implemented this year, though.
Is anyone getting a big raise?
Players at the bottom of the salary structure will definitely benefit the most in terms of percentages. This seems to be the most detailed report:
Some more details from the #MLSCBA Reserve minimum goes from 50 to 60 over the 5 years. Senior minimum goes from 60-70 over the five years.— keith costigan (@KeithCostigan) March 5, 2015
That seems like it will eat up a good chunk of the salary cap.
Actually, it shouldn't affect it much at all. Just like it was before, only the top 20 players on the roster will count against the salary cap and most of these players won't. There should be about eight players on the roster who don't count against the cap.
How are the potential S2 players affected?
These rules don't seem to have been completely finalized, but players will be able to get sent down from the senior team relatively easily, just like they could in the Reserve League. But calling players up who aren't already on the senior roster will require putting them on a MLS contract, which will complicate things. The team has said they expect to have about 12 players signed directly to S2.
Are players happy with the deal?
Not everyone, that's for sure. But apparently 12 of the 20 teams backed it, which is a pretty solid majority.
Could they have gotten a better deal if they had gone on strike?
That seems doubtful. The players' most important leverage was the threat of canceling the first week of the season, as it should be a massive showcase for the league. They pushed negotiations as far as they could before needing to walk away, and they were apparently prepared to do just that the night before a deal was struck.
But don't take my word for it, here's what union executive board member Todd Dunivant said: "Ultimately, the deal we took was, in my mind and in the majority of guys' minds, the best deal we could've received. That's our job, to get the absolute best offer in front of us. It's not the offer you think is fair. It's not the offer you think we deserve. It's ‘What is their best offer,' and that's what we had in front of us. I can say that with 100% certainty."
Who do we think won?
It really depends on your perspective. Most MLS fans were mostly interested in seeing games start on time, so they are probably winners. The lower-paid players got a nice raise, they are probably winners. Veterans now have a clear path toward free agency, I think they are probably winners. Single-entity is still very much intact -- due to the non-competitive nature of free agency -- so that's a solid winner. The players didn't get everything they wanted and the owners probably gave up a bit more than they intended, but negotiations are about compromise and both sides gave a little and got a little.
Were there losers?
The big losers were people who were hoping the players would force a dramatic restructuring of MLS and American soccer. The league that started play on Friday is very similar to the one that finished last December.
When do the Sounders play?
Sunday, Sunday, Sunday.