KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — The N.F.L. Players Association board of directors elected J.C. Tretter of the Cleveland Browns as their new president to lead the union for the next two years.
The new president, the highest-ranking player in the union, replaces Eric Winston, the former offensive lineman who held the job for six years but can no longer hold the position because he was not on an N.F.L. roster last year. Tretter will work with DeMaurice Smith, the union’s executive director since 2009, who faces re-election in 2021.
Tretter beat out two challengers: Sam Acho of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Michael Thomas of the Giants. Russell Okung of the Carolina Panthers, who had previously been announced as a candidate, dropped out in advance of the vote.
Tretter, 29, just finished his seventh season as an N.F.L. center. He was a fourth-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2013 and joined the Browns in 2017 as an unrestricted free agent. Before the 2019-20 season, Tretter signed a three-year contract reportedly worth $32.5 million, including $23 million guaranteed. Tretter holds a degree in labor relations from Cornell.
The election, which was held at the union’s annual convention at the Ritz-Carlton resort here, comes at a particularly turbulent time. For the past year, team owners and the union have been negotiating a 10-year collective bargaining agreement that includes proposals for sweeping changes to everything from the regular season and playoff schedules to rules governing practices to retiree benefits. The full union membership of about 2,000 players have until midnight Saturday to vote on the proposal, and it is far from clear whether the deal will be ratified because many influential players have voiced their opposition.
The board agreed Monday to push back the vote 48 hours from the original Thursday deadline. Afterward, some players who had already submitted their ballots on the C.B.A. asked if they could rescind their votes, but the board voted against allowing it.
This forced the candidates running for president to campaign for the job while unsure of the labor agreement which will govern the league’s next decade. If a simple majority of players approve the proposed deal, the new president will have to answer to the many prominent players, including J.J. Watt, Russell Wilson, and Richard Sherman, who opposed the addition of an extra regular season game and other key features of the agreement. If the deal is rejected, the new president will have to return to the bargaining table with the owners, who have been eager to reach a new agreement quickly so they can start negotiating new broadcast deals with Fox, NBC and other companies.
If the players do not ratify the proposed agreement, the owners said that the current labor deal will remain in place in the upcoming season before it expires next March. Some owners have warned, though, that they will not be as accommodating to the players if talks are reopened, according to people familiar with their strategy who were not authorized to speak for the owners.
Discord within the union’s leadership ranks has also grown in recent weeks. Some players like Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers have questioned why the union has rushed to vote on a deal when a year remains on the current agreement.
Tretter created and posted to Twitter a fact sheet on the proposed deal that was widely circulated among players’ accounts last week. Okung, who announced his candidacy in January, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the proposal. Thomas has also opposed the deal, while Acho has openly lobbied for players to ratify the agreement.
“Let’s not be fooled, this deal is a really good deal for a majority of N.F.L. players who, like most Americans who work, get paid more if they play more,” Acho said in a video posted on Twitter.
Opposition to the proposal is so deep that the union’s executive committee, which on paper led the negotiations, took the unusual step of voting 6 to 5 not to recommend the proposal to the union’s board. The board, which is made up of players from all 32 teams, also declined to endorse the deal, though a majority of them agreed to send the proposal to all 2,000 players.
Complicating matters, Okung, a member of the executive committee, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday that accused Smith and the union’s staff of negotiating the labor agreement in bad faith by forcing a vote on the deal over the objections of its executive committee, in violation of the union’s constitution.
Okung also accused the union’s leadership of trying to muzzle him from speaking out about the lack of transparency with the executive committee about the negotiations with N.F.L. owners, which began last year. While it will take likely take weeks for the N.L.R.B. to investigate Okung’s claims, the filing has turned into a referendum on Smith’s leadership of the union.
The team representatives also elected Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack to replace Mark Herzlich as treasurer on the 11-man executive committee. They are expected to also fill the vacancy left by the departure of Zak DeOssie from the committee.