NFL owners on Tuesday officially approved the league’s long-discussed move to an 18-week, 17-game regular-season schedule, the first such format change since 1978.
And per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the rich are getting richer. All NFL players signed before Feb. 26, 2020, when the new CBA was ratified, and who have not since “substantially renegotiated,” will earn an extra paycheck following the 17th game. The amount is equal to 1/17 of the player’s 2021 base salary.
It’s a particularly fortuitous development for Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who has a $17 million salary on the books and thus will receive $1 million in Week 18 — one of just 10 players in the seven-digit bonus club.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, down to $8.06 million in available funds, the Week 18 bonus will not affect the salary cap, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Wednesday.
“In 2021, extra game checks funded are from the performance-based pay pool (up to $48 million) and rookie redistribution fund, per Pelissero, therefore are counted as benefits, not salary, and aren’t counted against the cap.”
Offseason reports suggested that Dallas was likely to restructure Lawrence’s $105 million extension which he inked in 2019. But the organization ultimately left his contract untouched, choosing instead to alter the deals of offensive linemen Zack Martin, La’el Collins, and Tyron Smith.
Lawrence is due to count $25 million against the cap in 2021, his age-29 campaign.
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Tough Break for Dallas
Lawrence might (should) be celebrating the blockbuster schedule news, but the Cowboys probably are (should be) less than enthused. The 17th game was determined by pitting teams who finished in the same place in their respective divisions in 2020, with the AFC serving as the “home conference.”
So, Dallas not only will play away from the friendly confines of AT&T Stadium, but they drew the third-placed AFC East residents: Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
Considering they face off once every four years, this will represent only the 14th all-time tilt between the Patriots and Cowboys, who hold a 7-6 series lead but have lost the last six consecutive meetings dating back to 1999.
The most recent matchup occurred in November 2019, a 13-9 Patriots conquest. The most recent victory for Dallas? Dec. 15, 1996, when kicker Chris Boniol outdueled New England counterpart Adam Vinatieri en route to a 12-6 squeaker.
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Rest of 2021 Opponents
Talk about murderer’s row. In addition to Belichick and Co., the Cowboys will hit the road to do battle against divisional rivals New York, Philadelphia, and Washington as well as New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Los Angeles (Chargers), and Minnesota.
In non-NFC East affairs, Dallas — with the NFL’s third-easiest strength of schedule — will host Atlanta, Carolina, Las Vegas, Denver, and Carolina. Dates and times for all 17 regular-season games, along with preseason contests, will be announced in early May.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL