Under normal circumstances, the NFL would have its eyes these days not just on the upcoming draft but also the offseason workout program: teams with new head coaches were originally permitted to start workouts back on April 6, with all others — including the New England Patriots — kicking off their own offseason program on April. That schedule, of course, has been drastically altered due to the current the Coronavirus pandemic.
With all 32 team facilities having been shut down and only a handful of people allowed in, the entire league had to change its plans. On Monday, the results of those changes were announced to the clubs: after negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, a “virtual offseason period” has been approved that will begin next Monday, April 20, and end no later than May 15, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
The rules announced via memo stipulate that each organization is allowed three consecutive weeks of virtual work that includes classroom instruction, workouts, and non-football-related educational programs using video conference services. Facilities, however, will remain closed in the meantime and not open until federal, state and local guidelines deem such a move as safe (via ESPN’s Adam Schefter):
When Club facilities reopen, Clubs may resume offseason workout programs, including all permissible on-field activities, under customary CBA rules (the “On-Field Period”). The reopening of Club facilities will occur in accordance with protocols established by the League, in conformity with federal, state and local rules and regulations, and only after consultation with the NFLPA, which will be promulgated to Clubs at the appropriate time. In the event that one or more NFL Club facilities remain closed for any period of time, all Club facilities will remain closed during that period.
As the memo states, the reopening of club facilities is dependent on parameters set by government officials on both a federal and local level. Per Yahoo! Sports’ Charles Robinson, “[t]he NFL’s offseason will remain virtual as long as all 50 states are under some kind of lockdown. This means NFL franchises cannot resume in-house work, OTAs or any form of camps until all 50 states have removed lockdown restrictions. This includes states without NFL teams.”
In case facilities do not reopen during the league’s offseason workout program, which is scheduled to end no later than June 26, teams are allowed but not required to conduct a mandatory veteran minicamp on a virtual basis: two hours of classroom time are permitted as well as two hours of workout time. Whether or not teams will have to fall back on this option remains to be seen, of course, considering that the whole situation remains in flux.
For the time being, though, the ground rules for the first phase of workouts have been set. From a player participation perspective, they still look similar to the normal rules as pointed out in the league’s memo:
As in prior years, player participation in offseason workout programs remains strictly voluntary. No Club official may indicate to a player that the Club’s offseason workout program or classroom instruction is not voluntary, or that a player’s failure to participate in the Virtual Period or the On-Field Period will result in the player’s failure to make the Club, or in any other adverse consequences affecting his working conditions.