Collective Bargaining Agreement

49ers, Ravens, Saints To Skip Offseason Workouts

The list of teams preparing to move ahead with a virtual offseason program has nearly reached 20. The 49ers, Ravens and Saints joined the brigade Saturday, voicing support of the NFLPA’s call to boycott voluntary workouts.

Teams can begin onsite offseason work Monday, though on-field work cannot begin until May 17. The 49ers’ statement indicated many players will not attend (on Twitter); the Ravens and Saints’ statements did not include this language (Twitter links). John Harbaugh said a second straight year with a virtual offseason would be a “colossal mistake,” via ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley (on Twitter), but the Ravens will proceed in this direction anyway.

Saturday’s three teams (so far) announcing they will not show for the start of the voluntary offseason program makes 19 franchises not expected to attend workouts. However, some players on the first team to stand with the NFLPA — the Broncos — will attend their program, and others are on the fence.

It will be interesting to see if other teams who have seen players vow to stay away see some in their ranks report to workouts. Phase 2 of the offseason program will include a rookie minicamp, which will feature draftees and UDFAs vying to take some veterans’ jobs. The NFL and NFLPA have not reached a resolution on the offseason format, despite the league unilaterally releasing a schedule, but the sides still have some time until on-field work commences. Until then, the NFL will see some teams report to workouts and others stay home.

Here are the teams that are planning to begin a virtual offseason Monday:

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Dolphins, Rams Join Teams Skipping Offseason Workouts

Half the NFL teams have now pledged not to attend voluntary offseason workouts. Well, the bulk of the players on those teams have. The Dolphins and Rams became the latest to do so.

Both teams issued statements Friday, via the NFLPA (on Twitter), indicating their players will not attend the start of the NFL’s offseason workouts. This year’s program is scheduled to start Monday. The Dolphins and Rams are the 15th and 16th teams to have released statements indicating most or all of their players will not be in attendance.

Neither the Dolphins nor the Rams offered the “many players will not attend” caveat, as some teams have, and they will move forward with virtual programs. No on-field work can take place until May 17, the second phase of the offseason itineraries, but teams can begin work at their respective facilities from April 19 through May 14.

Last year, the NFL and NFLPA came to an agreement — in the initial months of the pandemic — the offseason would be entirely virtual. The NFLPA is pushing for that arrangement to continue, even as COVID-19 vaccines are now available. A rookie minicamp will be part of the on-field workouts that begin in Phase 2, so it will be interesting to see how teams’ rookie draftees and UDFAs proceed.

Here are the teams that have issued statements regarding their players’ intention not to attend offseason programs:

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NFL Sets Offseason Workout Schedule; More Teams To Hold Virtual Sessions

The subject of offseason workouts has generated considerable discord this offseason, but teams remain free to begin programs Monday. The NFL also released a schedule for this year’s OTAs, for the teams that intend to participate onsite.

From April 19 to May 14, players can lift in team weight rooms; all meetings during this span will be virtual. May 17 begins a more relevant section of the offseason calendar; teams are permitted to hold noncontact on-field drills over a five-day period, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. The OTA portion of the offseason would begin May 24; teams can hold 10 OTA sessions and a mandatory minicamp from May 24-June 18.

Of course, the number of teams who will exercise these onsite opportunities continues to dwindle. After the Broncos, Seahawks and Buccaneers declared they will go through another virtual offseason, the Lions followed suit Wednesday (Twitter link). The Patriots did as well, though their release indicates “many” team members will not attend onsite workouts (Twitter link). Some Patriots may show up next week. New England led the NFL with eight opt-out players last year.

During the first phase of the offseason schedule, the NFL intends to focus on vaccine education, according to ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano. NFL staffers set to work with players must receive COVID-19 vaccinations; no mandate exists for players, however. Meetings during the third phase of the proposed program could remain virtual, but Graziano adds teams will be allowed to hold in-person meetings at this point — with COVID restrictions — as well.

The NFLPA has continued to push for a second fully virtual offseason program, citing coronavirus concerns, and players on a few teams have stood with the union thus far. More clubs may well follow suit.

Predictably, the union is displeased with the NFL’s proposed schedule. In a letter sent to players tonight, NFLPA executive director De Smith and president J.C. Tretter said that the league’s plan does not address any of the concerns that players have raised, and they continue to encourage players to stay away from team facilities. The full letter can be found here, courtesy of Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network.

The NFL, perhaps in response, issued another memo setting forth one of the benefits of working out at facilities: if a player gets hurt on-site, he will have injury protection. If he gets hurt while working out on his own, he will not. Pelissero has that memo as well.

As the battle of the paperwork rages on, it looks like the NFL may be set for a strange imbalance featuring some teams holding in-person workouts and others not.

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NFLPA President Urges OTA Boycott

No deal has been reached between the NFL and NFLPA regarding how offseason work will be structured, but the union has pushed for a second virtual offseason. Its president would like to drive a hard line here.

Second-year NFLPA president J.C. Tretter said on a call with players Friday he would urge players to boycott OTAs, if no deal is reached by April 19 and teams move to hold onsite work, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. While this would risk workout bonuses, Pelissero notes only around 300 players have such incentives in their contracts for 2021 (Twitter link).

While it is uncertain how much onsite work will take place this offseason, OTAs are expected to resume in some capacity. These are voluntary activities, but teams generally expect most players to attend. They do prove beneficial, particularly to young players aiming to solidify jobs, so a call for an en masse boycott would certainly qualify as a major decision. June minicamps, which have yet to be scheduled for this year, serve as the only mandatory offseason activity. Teams cannot fine players for skipping OTAs. Of course, that would not stop franchises from making different plans at certain positions based on offseason attendance.

Roger Goodell said in February he expected certain virtual elements to remain in place this year. In the weeks since, however, momentum has emerged for onsite work to take place again. With the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting the country and the sports world, the NFLPA has attempted to push back on a return to in-person workouts this spring. Tretter’s boycott call would ratchet this up considerably.

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OTAs Expected To Return This Year

The NFL and NFLPA continue to discuss the parameters of the 2021 offseason. Absent a deal, teams can begin holding onsite workouts April 19. But the agreement between the league and the union should still be expected to include some on-field work this spring.

After last year’s virtual offseason, the 2021 program is expected to feature OTAs at team facilities, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (on Twitter). The NFLPA has pushed back on in-person offseason workouts returning, citing COVID-19 concerns, but a compromise that leads to some on-field work appears to be in the works.

Over the course of the 2011 CBA (prior to 2020), teams began their offseason programs each April. In 2019, teams with new coaches could start their respective programs in early April ahead of May OTAs and June minicamp. Last year, the pandemic nixed every on-field NFL activity until training camp and wiped out the preseason. Teams with new coaches in 2021, as of now, are not expected to have a head-start this year. But after 2020’s fully virtual offseason, coaching staffs will certainly welcome increased opportunities to develop players onsite ahead of training camp.

A full season of daily coronavirus testing stands to provide the league a better blueprint than it possessed at this point last year, but the league and union remain in talks about how this offseason will look. Meetings are expected to remain virtual for the foreseeable future, though teams that reach a certain vaccination level will have their COVID restrictions loosened. The NFL currently is not mandating players be vaccinated but is encouraging them to do so.

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NFL Approves 17-Game Schedule

It’s officially official. On Tuesday, NFL owners formally approved a 17-game schedule for the 2021 season.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement provided owners with the option to go from 16 games to 17 games. Despite substantial player opposition, the union ultimately voted in favor of the change. On the plus side, the extra revenue from a 17th game should help to bring the salary cap back towards its usual max in 2022 and beyond.

To offset the extra game, the NFL will move from a four-game preseason to a two or three-game preseason schedule. The new arrangement will not add another bye week. Meanwhile, the 18-week season will push the Super Bowl to the middle of February.

The additional game will provide an immediate lift in profits for all 32 owners, but that won’t impact this year’s $182.5MM salary cap. In the short run, however, it will yield an extra game check for players league wide.

The new schedule also means a new scheduling formula to account for the odd number of games. The “extra game” will be an inter-conference matchup, pitting AFC and NFC teams against each other in accordance with their divisional finish. Host sites will alternate between the AFC and NFC.

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NFL To Expand To 17-Game Season

It’s happening. In 2021, the NFL will go from a 16-game regular season to a 17-game slate, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. This was the expected move and the league office is expected to make it all official in the coming weeks.

The last round of CBA negotiations provided the NFL with this option, even though many players were opposed. On the plus side, the additional revenue from a 17th game should help to soften the expected drop in the 2021 salary cap. And, to offset the extra game, the NFL will move from a four-game preseason to a two or three-game preseason schedule. The new arrangement will not add another bye week, but the 18-week season will push the Super Bowl to the second week of February.

The new CBA mandates a salary cap floor of $175MM, but the additional game could drive it a bit higher. In any event, the number is expected to fall short of this year’s $198.2MM max. Meanwhile, the league’s new scheduling formula will account for the odd number of games. The “extra game” will be an inter-conference matchup, pitting AFC and NFC teams against each other in accordance with their divisional finish. Host sites will alternate between the AFC and NFC.

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Extra Points: Coaches, GMs, Schedule, OTAs

After the NFL expanded the Rooney Rule this offseason, it has a “ready list” of minority candidates for head coaching jobs, offensive and defensive coordinator positions and GM candidates, according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. Beyond some of the big names — Eric Bieniemy, Marvin Lewis, Todd Bowles, Leslie Frazier among them — coaches like Clemson OC Tony Elliott, Penn State HC James Franklin and Michigan State HC Mel Tucker appear on the HC portion of the list. On the GM side, some first-time candidates include Bills pro scouting director Malik Boyd, Raiders pro scouting director Dwayne Joseph, Ravens exec Vincent Newsome and Chargers player personnel director JoJo Wooden. Former Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson — now the franchise’s pro scouting director — also appears on the GM portion of the list. The Rooney Rule now mandates teams interview two minority HC candidates and expanded the rule to include coordinator positions. Franchises must also open their senior-level executive jobs to minority and female candidates.

Here is the latest from around the league:

  • Normal NFL offseasons feature several weeks’ worth of OTAs preceding a June minicamp, but the NFLPA would like a schedule that looks closer to this year’s virtual offseason. Union executive director DeMaurice Smith said “there is absolutely no reason” for the NFL to return to full-scale OTAs, per Sports Business Daily’s Ben Fischer (subscription required). Having seen no decline in performance after this atypical offseason, union president J.C. Tretter agrees with Smith. This would be a stretch for coaching staffs, which have steadily seen their time with players cut back. The past two CBA agreements have significantly limited offseason and padded training camp workouts, and 2020’s COVID-19-altered offseason created steeper acclimation challenges for young players.
  • The NFL has agreed to a formula for its 17th regular-season game, making it increasingly likely this season will be the last one of the 16-game era. In what will be the first shift to the league’s scheduling setup since 2002, the 17-game schedule will feature a fifth interconference game. The schedule will pit an AFC division winner against an NFC division winner, and on down the line within each division, but the extra interconference game will not feature two teams who played the previous year, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. In the event the NFL moves to the 17-game season in 2021, the Chiefs and Buccaneers could not play again next season; the earliest such a regular-season rematch would occur would be 2022.
  • Roger Goodell may well be on board with shortening the preseason slate from four games to two. The commissioner “seemed in favor” of halving the preseason schedule at last week’s owners meetings, according to ESPN.com’s Seth Wickersham, but some high-profile owners are not. Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft, John Mara and Art Rooney II dismissed the idea of going from three preseason games — the new number as of the 2020 CBA — to two, according to ESPN. No vote occurred on the matter, though Goodell discussing the idea publicly points to it remaining an issue going forward.

Latest On NFL’s 17-Game Season Plan

The new CBA gives the NFL leeway to expand to a 17-game season as soon as 2021. Given the COVID-19 pandemic’s affect on revenue this season, it would seem owners would move to institute the expanded schedule as soon as possible. While that is not certain yet, some clarity is emerging on how the new schedule would be structured.

The league approved a new scheduling formula Wednesday, Roger Goodell said. A fifth interconference game will appear on teams’ schedules, whenever the NFL greenlights the 17-game slate.

Wednesday’s agreement will lead to schedules’ extra game being AFC-NFC matchups pitting teams with corresponding divisional finishes from the previous year against one another, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk tweets. A first-place team from the AFC would meet an additional first-place NFC squad and so on. The NFL has confirmed each team’s schedule will include a fifth interconference game, whenever the 17-game season becomes a reality, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The AFC and NFC will alternate hosting these extra games, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets.

This may mean a four-year cycle similar to the league’s current AFC-NFC format. Schedules mandate teams face all four teams from at least one out-of-conference division, with that rotating each year, but the Super Bowl is the only other interconference matchup that occurs annually. This has led to certain marquee showdowns — be it games featuring Aaron Rodgers facing Tom Brady (for most of their careers) or Patrick Mahomes against Russell Wilson — occurring only once every four seasons. Schedules including games against multiple out-of-conference divisions would open the door to more key matchups being on dockets.

This year, the NFL schedule will feature two additional playoff games. While no votes were taken at today’s owners meetings regarding a 2021 move to the 17-game schedule, the decision on the new formula points to it becoming a reality soon. Indeed, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports hears that a vote will happen in the coming weeks and that the measure will easily pass. The NFL must renegotiate its ESPN TV contract before the end of next year, and its deals with the other networks expire in 2022. A plan for the 17th game emerging will provide more clarity in these negotiations.

Not everyone is convinced that the extra game will become a reality next season. The NFL is “far less certain” to implement its 17-game schedule than it was before the pandemic, according to Sports Business Daily’s Ben Fischer (Twitter link), who says that an expansion to 17 games would have been a certainty before the pandemic hit. However, the NFL losing upwards of nine figures due to the pandemic, which is expected to lead to a reduced salary cap in 2021, certainly points to the owners figuring out a way to expand the schedule as soon as possible.

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COVID-19 Latest: JUCO, SEC, Bidwill, Strike

While the JUCO circuit resides several levels away from the NFL, the National Junior College Athletic Association announced a major move Monday. The junior college football season will now take place in the spring, the NJCAA announced. While the Ivy League was the first to postpone its football season, it did not say spring football was a go. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have opted to play conference-only schedules amid the pandemic, but the latter has discussed a move to the spring. Junior colleges playing in the spring will not directly affect the NFL, but it marks the latest big step a football organization has taken amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Monday, the NFL has made no changes to its training camp plan. Most teams are set to open camp to all players July 28, but given the uncertainty the recent coronavirus spikes have caused, it would not surprise if the NFL had to adjust its schedule at some point soon.

Here is the latest from the league’s effort to navigate the pandemic.

  • Despite multiple Power 5 conferences making changes to their schedules, the SEC is holding out. The conference will wait until late July to make a decision on how to proceed with its football season, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said (via Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman, on Twitter). Most states housing SEC schools broke records for coronavirus cases in the past two weeks, with Florida’s Sunday case load (15,300) surpassing all of Europe’s that day.
  • Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill has been released from the hospital, the team announced. Bidwill contracted the coronavirus and spent time at a Newport, R.I., hospital. The 55-year-old owner has not been in face-to-face contact with Cardinals coaches or players since the pandemic began.
  • A few key issues loom before the NFL and NFLPA can sign off on a return-to-work edict — the 2021 salary cap, the preseason slate, testing and opt-out protocols being among the main hurdles to clear — but Tony Pauline of ProFootballNetwork.com tweets bonuses are also a sticking point. Players are concerned in-season COVID-19 contractions will result in missed money from per-game roster bonuses, and Pauline adds the NFL and NFLPA are discussing that matter. Players who contract the virus in-season would miss at least a game and possibly more, given the various quarantine policies the NFL has unveiled.
  • During Friday’s NFLPA meeting multiple questions emerged regarding a strike, per veteran NFL reporter Josina Anderson (on Twitter). This pertained to players’ concerns about being asked to return to work without the NFL providing concrete COVID answers. However, the NFLPA will not opt to strike, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes. A strike would give the league the opportunity to pull the plug on the recently agreed-upon CBA, which was sent out for a vote before the pandemic changed the league’s financial standing. While the league believes it can unilaterally implement training camp rules, Florio adds that it is working with the NFLPA to avoid a grievance from the players’ side.