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Quick-hit thoughts on the Patriots losing two practice days for an offseason rule violation

The NFL disciplined the Patriots for an apparent violation of their offseason rules. Here is what this means for the team.

New England Patriots Training Camp Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

As first reported on Wednesday night, the New England Patriots have been stripped a pair of organized team activities for violating NFL rules. There is no telling yet what their actual infraction was, but the fact remains that the league found a fine-worthy offense.

What does that mean for the team, though? Let’s find out.

The penalty will not just affect practice. The Patriots originally had 10 days of OTAs scheduled, but two of those — May 25 and May 30 — have now been stripped. Obviously, no practice will take place that day but the penalty will go beyond the on-field portion of the offseason program.

Only two hours per day are reserved for practice, after all; four more hours are for other team-supervised in-facility activities. With the Patriots losing two full days rather than two practices, that off-field time will also be impacted.

The rookie developmental program will likely continue as planned. Simultaneously to offseason workouts, the Patriots are also holding their rookie developmental program. Essentially an “NFL 101” for first-year players, it is meant to bring rookies up to speed over the course of a seven-week span starting right after rookie minicamp.

A team can hold up to five such sessions per week, even when OTAs are taking place. But while the team is losing the latter, the former will likely not be impacted by the league’s sanctions.

This is not that big of a deal. The Patriots regularly enjoy strong attendance, but at the end of the day organized team activities are still strictly voluntary. This means that, while the league-imposed penalty still robs the club of a total of 12 hours of work with the players, it is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

The Patriots still have eight of 10 OTA days available, plus their three-day mandatory minicamp in mid-June. They also started laying the foundation back in Phase 2, when coaches and players were first allowed to interact with each other. Long story short, they do have plenty of teaching opportunities available outside of those two sessions.

And lest we forget, Bill Belichick has regularly canceled OTAs in the past or turned them into team-building field trips. That said...

Voluntary OTA cancellations probably won’t happen this year. While losing two days of OTAs won’t hurt the club all that much, it likely decreases the wiggle room for Belichick to reward players by skipping sessions toward the end of Phase 3. That could still happen, of course, but the team probably has to be ready for all remaining sessions to take place as planned.

New England is not the first team to be docked OTAs in recent offseasons. While it is not known yet why the NFL stripped the Patriots of two days of workouts, the penalty suggests that it might stem from a violation of the league’s non-contact rules at this point in the process. If so, New England would be the latest team caught in the act.

In recent years, the Houston Texans (2022), Chicago Bears (2022), Washington Commanders (2022), Dallas Cowboys (2022, 2021), San Francisco 49ers (2021), Jacksonville Jaguars (2021), Baltimore Ravens (2018, 2016), Atlanta Falcons (2016) and Seattle Seahawks (2016, 2015, 2014) were all penalized for similar offseason infractions. The Seahawks were hit hardest among those clubs.

In 2016 — their third straight year of a violation — they were stripped a full week of OTAs and also lost a fifth-round draft pick the following year. The club and head coach Pete Carroll were additionally fined $400,000 and $200,000, respectively.

From that point of view, the Patriots’ penalty is relatively light.

The Patriots can’t escape their reputation. The Patriots have now been penalized for the fourth time in the last 15 years. An argument can be made that this latest incident is the most severe among them despite drawing the smallest fine, but one fact does remain: fairly or not, the team cannot escape the reputation as “rule-benders” it has among a large portion of NFL fans.