The NFL will begin its voluntary offseason workout program next week, but an ever-growing number of players has decided to sit out the voluntary sessions over concerns about the Coronavirus pandemic. Among them will also be members of the New England Patriots.
The NFL Players Association released a statement on behalf of New England’s players on Wednesday saying that “many” of them have decided to skip the sessions that are scheduled to begin on April 19. The full statement reads as follows:
In solidarity with other players across the NFL and in interest of our health and safety, many of us at the New England Patriots will be exercising our right to not attend voluntary workouts this offseason. The NFL has yet to agree to the full details of a plan for players despite the fact we are a few short days away from the start of voluntary workouts. The threat of COVID-19 is still serious in our community and across the country, and we think it is safer for everyone if we choose to workout on our own. While we understand that some players will need to go for various reasons and some safety measures have been put in place, we also know that NFL players have a choice which our union bargained for.
We saw the health and safety benefits that a fully virtual offseason had on our fellow players last year. As experienced professionals who love the game, we know how to prepare our minds and bodies for an NFL season and look forward to working hard in pursuit of a Super Bowl this coming season.
With the Coronavirus pandemic still a major factor in the league’s preparatory process for the upcoming 2021 season, the first phase of voluntary sessions is 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 has created some tension 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.
So far, five teams have at least partially followed this recommendation. The Patriots are joining the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions, all of whom released similar statements over the past two days.
The NFL’s offseason workouts are split into different phases, with the first one set to begin next week aimed at strength and conditioning. With the exception of the mandatory minicamps that usually take place in late May or early June all over the league, all of those phases are voluntary in nature.
That said, some players do have workout bonuses in their respective contracts tied to attendance during those sessions. The Patriots, for example, have eight players with workout bonuses in their respective contracts — ranging from quarterback Cam Newton’s and special teamer Brandon King’s $100,000 to cornerback Michael Jackson’s $15,000.
Whether or not they will ultimately be among those Patriots not covered by the “many” part of the statement above remains to be seen, though. King, for example, has claimed that he would report when called upon to do that by head coach Bill Belichick.
Traditionally, New England has always had solid attendance during the offseason regardless of whether or not players were mandated to participate or not.