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A conflict over offseason workouts is brewing between NFL teams and players

Related: NFL expected to allow ‘some on-field work’ during the 2021 offseason

New England Patriots Practice Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The NFL informed its 32 clubs last month that they would be permitted to start their offseason workouts programs by April 19. At that point the first phase of team-organized preparatory work with a focus on strength and conditioning would start.

With the Coronavirus pandemic still a major factor in the league’s decision making process, those voluntary sessions are expected to be held in a virtual setting similar to last year’s. How subsequent offseason activities will look like is up in the air, however, and is building up to a standoff between teams and players.

Whereas the NFL wants to return to in-person work after the first two weeks of workouts and is aiming to have some on-field practices during mandatory minicamp, the players union is pushing to move all offseason work to a virtual forum regardless of its attendance status.

On Tuesday, the NFLPA therefore sent a letter to the players urging them not to participate in voluntary workouts until the dispute is settled (excerpt via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero):

We believe that having the same offseason rules as last year is in the best interest of both the players and gives us the best chance to completing a full NFL season in 2021.

As you know, other than minicamps, all offseason workouts are completely voluntary despite some of the language used by the clubs in recent days. And, while the CBA allows the teams to host mandatory minicamps, we believe the league should make them virtual just like last season.

It is the recommendation of the NFLPA based on our medical experts’ advice that if the voluntary offseason program is in person, players should not attend.

So far, three teams’ players have followed this recommendation. The NFLPA released statements on behalf of the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Tuesday, notifying the public that players on these teams will not be attending voluntary workouts.

The New England Patriots, meanwhile, have not yet made such a decision.

One factor to consider for all teams is workout bonuses. While only about 12 percent of players have such bonuses tied to offseason work in their contracts, the financial aspect of opting out of organized team activities will play a role in the decision making process as well.

Excluding wide receiver Julian Edelman and safety Patrick Chung, who will both not be back with the team in 2021, the Patriots have eight players with workout bonuses in their respective contracts. Those bonuses range from quarterback Cam Newton’s and special teamer Brandon King’s $100,000 to cornerback Michael Jackson’s $15,000.

Those numbers are significantly lower than what other players around the league are getting. The three players in this category, all of whom under contract with the Green Bay Packers, would lose between $600,000 and $750,000 were they to skip offseason work.

Negotiations between the NFL and the NFLPA will continue in the coming days and weeks, but it would not be surprising to see additional teams join the Broncos, Seahawks and Buccaneers in sitting out voluntary work at the team facilities.