The NFL’s offseason workout program is scheduled to begin next Monday, but questions about the league’s protocols in regards to the Coronavirus pandemic have created a dispute between clubs and players. The NFL Players Association sent out a recommendation that its members stay away from voluntary workouts, with five teams so far announcing they are following along.
The New England Patriots are part of this group, even though not all of their players did announce their intention to stay away from those voluntary sessions. Per a statement released by the NFLPA, “many ... will be exercising our right to not attend voluntary workouts this offseason.”
At the core of the problem is the in-person aspect of those voluntary workouts. While the NFL wants to get players into the training facilities and eventually onto the field before late July’s training camp, the NFLPA is pushing for an all-virtual offseason — including the mandatory minicamps in June — just like last year’s.
With the dispute between the two sides ongoing, the league released its a modified workout schedule for the 2021 offseason on Wednesday.
In its essence it extended the first phase of workouts from two to four weeks, prohibits any on-field work until Phase 2 begins on May 17, and introduces a normal Phase 3 with four weeks of practice between late May and mid-June, culminating in the aforementioned mandatory minicamp.
According to the NFL memo, the three phases of workouts now look as follows:
- Phase 1 (April 19-May 14): Four weeks instead of two; no in-person meetings or on-field activity; voluntary weight room workouts with up to 10 players present; no more than 20 players in the facility at the same time.
- Phase 2 (May 17-May 21): One week instead of three; on-field workouts without restriction as agreed upon in the CBA (e.g. no contact or live tackling); all coaches permitted on the field; meetings and classroom instruction on a virtual basis; no more than four hours of activity per day; no more than two hours of activity per day.
- Phase 3 (May 24-June 18): Four weeks as normal; in-person meeting and classroom instruction; 10 days or organized team practices (OTAs) of no more than six hours per day including a maximum of two hours daily on the field; all coaches allowed on the field; 7-on-7s, 9-on-7s, 11-on-11s allowed as agreed upon in the CBA (e.g. no contact or live tackling); includes mandatory minicamp.
On top of the offseason workouts as laid out in this plans, teams are also allowed to conduct a three-day rookie minicamp during either the first of second week after the draft. This camp will be followed by a rookie developmental program starting with Phase 2 of voluntary work on May 17 that is allowed to run until July 2.
The rookie program looked drastically different last year, which means that first-year players will have a better start into their pro careers in 2021.
While the league did make some modifications to its workout schedule, the NFLPA responded by doubling down on its recommendation that players skip voluntary work this offseason. The union’s leadership sent out the following letter on Wednesday (via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero):
The NFL’s announcement does not address any of the concerns raised by the players. The slight modification only extended “Phase 1” activity and reduced “Phase 2” activity by two weeks.
As players are making informed decisions about exercising their rights to not participate in the voluntary offseason program, it is our recommendation that due to the injury data, continued threat of COVID-19 and the lack of a comprehensive plan to protect players, that the safest decision would be to not attend any in-person club organized activities at your club.
With the first phase of workouts set to begin in only four days, tensions remain high and there is a realistic chance that other clubs’ players follow the example of the five named above and stay away from voluntary sessions this spring. The biggest question, though, is how the mandatory portion of the offseason program will be conducted.