In any normal year, the New England Patriots would be in the middle of preparing for their organized team activities later this month. 2020 is not a normal year, however, as the current Coronavirus pandemic has forced the United States to adapt to the national health crisis. From the NFL’s perspective, this led to moving offseason workouts to a virtual setting in order to comply with social distancing guidelines and regional stay-at-home orders.
In mid-April, and following negotiations with the players association, the league therefore introduced the so-called “virtual offseason period” that began on April 20 and was slated to run no longer than through May 15. On Wednesday, however, the NFL sent a memo to its 32 member teams announcing that the virtual window will be kept open an additional two weeks (via NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport):
The Virtual Period for offseason workout programs has been extended through and including May 29. [...] All offseason workout programs must conclude by June 26. In the event Club facilities reope nat some point in June, under protocols established by the League in consultation with our medical advisors, the remaining o-field portion of the program will be determined in consultation with the Joint Committee and will be promulgated to Clubs at the earliest possible date.
The memo also noted that the rules established in April through talks between the NFL and the NFLPA remain in place. This means that, for the time being, the ground rules for the first phase of workouts still look similar to the normal rules as pointed out in the league’s original memo to inform clubs about the virtual period in the first place:
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.
The New England Patriots started their own virtual workouts at the earliest possible date, April 20. They were among 12 clubs to open that day, and one of three together with the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts, to actually include workouts akin to physical exercise. The other nine teams to open their virtual offseason on the same day as the Patriots, meanwhile, were primarily focused on classroom and educational work.
While the team’s training staff and players therefore continue their offseason work on as normal a schedule as possible — one that also includes the addition of the rookie developmental program since it began earlier this week — the bigger organizational structures will need to keep preparing for a possible reopening. The NFL originally had informed clubs that these protocols should be in place by May 15, but the tone of the latest memo makes it sound as if no reopening will be initiated until June.
As has been the case throughout this whole ordeal, however, the situation will remain fluid.