COVID-19

NFLPA To Discuss 2021 Opt-Outs

Last year, dozens of NFL players opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith says he’ll push to extend that option into 2021 (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero). 

A number of NFL locker rooms have already decided against onsite offseason workouts. That’s an indication that some players may choose to stay home this year, should the coronavirus bring new variants to the states. Of course, with vaccines having been widely administered, players are more comfortable with the idea of traveling than they were in 2020.

Chiefs guard and medical school graduate Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was the first player to officially opt out last summer. Scores of players followed, though most said they struggled with the decision, which was complicated by lengthy negotiations over compensation and free agency rights. This time around, Smith is hoping to solidify the terms well in advance to make things easier for players.

Meanwhile, NFLPA president and Browns center J.C. Tretter reiterated the union’s position that every player should boycott voluntary OTAs.

This is not a 2021 offseason issue. This will be an issue year after year,” Tretter said.

Offseason Notes: Pats, Packers, Minicamps

As you’re surely well aware by now, this year’s NFL offseason workouts have been a point of tension between the NFLPA and the league. Many teams have announced their intention to skip workouts and proceed entirely virtually like they did last year. Lots of teams also issued statements saying that “many” of their players wouldn’t be attending, and one of those was the Patriots. Well New England started their program this past week, and now we have some details on which players showed up.

Most notably, Cam Newton was in attendance, according to Nicole Yang of the Boston Globe. Fellow Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham was also there. Yang points out that Newton has a $100K workout bonus in his contract, giving him some extra motivation. This will likely be something of a trend around the NFL, with quarterbacks wanting to take initiative and not be seen as slacking off. Newton isn’t assured the starting job in 2021, so it’s not surprising he’s doing everything he can to get on the coaching staff’s good side.

Here are some more updates on offseason programs:

  • One team that won’t have anybody showing up is the Packers. That’s because rather than having some in and some out, Green Bay has elected to have the entire first month of their offseason program be virtual, a source told Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. Demovsky writes that the Packers will re-evaluate ahead of the start of the second phase of the offseason on May 17th. That’s when real on-field work is supposed to start, while right now programs are limited to weight room and conditioning work. The source also told Demovsky that players with workout bonuses “will be credited for attendance by logging on virtually.” Several high profile Packers have big bonuses, like Aaron Rodgers‘ $500K one, but as of right now we won’t get to see whether he would’ve chosen to show up or not.
  • The Titans became the latest team to announce they wouldn’t attend in-person workouts, issuing a statement via the NFLPA’s twitter. Their statement sounds nearly universal.
  • Even though we’re (hopefully) nearing the light at the end of the tunnel with the pandemic, it’s still having very real impacts on players, particularly the unheralded ones looking for a chance. The NFL has told teams they’ll be limited to a maximum of five tryout players at rookie minicamps next month, a source told Tom Pelissero of NFL Network (Twitter link). As Pelissero notes, in normal years there are usually dozens of players invited to tryout at rookie minicamps, and many of them often end up getting signed. Many of these non-priority UDFAs have gone on to be major contributors in the league. Rookie minicamps didn’t happen at all in 2020, so this is at least a small step in a positive direction.

Workouts Latest: Lock, Pack, Pats, Cowboys

Although the Broncos were the first team to go along with the NFLPA’s proposed boycott of the voluntary offseason workout slate, several of their players were present for the first day of workouts Monday. Drew Lock was among the 20-plus Broncos in attendance for Phase I of the team’s offseason program, Mike Klis of 9News notes. Lock has a $75K workout bonus in his contract, joining fellow 2019 second-round pick Dalton Risner in that regard. Risner said Saturday he would attend regardless of the bonus; Denver’s other starting guard, Graham Glasgow, said he would attend as well. While many Bronco veterans are following through with the boycott, Klis notes this only applies to the onsite workouts. All were present for the virtual meetings Monday. It would certainly behoove Lock to attend, given his uncertain status. The Broncos are expected to add a quarterback; it just is not known if it will be a veteran competitor or a first-round replacement. Agents have encouraged other young players to attend workouts as well, Klis tweets.

With teams’ offseason programs beginning Monday, here is the latest from the workout front:

  • While a small number of the NFL’s 4,500 players have workout bonuses (230), many on the Packers do. Green Bay’s players have not joined the NFLPA boycott, but the Packers have offered an interesting compromise to their workforce. The Packers proposed a deal that would allow players to satisfy their workout bonuses without coming to the facility to train for Phase I, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes. Although various teams’ statements cite COVID-19 concerns, Florio adds that the boycott effort is more about players learning last year they do not need to spend extensive time training at team facilities in the offseason. Many veterans would prefer to train on their own before on-field work starts May 17, and Florio notes they are prepared to assume the risk of an offsite injury. The Packers’ proposal would not protect players if they suffered injuries away from the team’s facility.
  • The NFL and NFLPA remain at an impasse on the offseason schedule. Part of the reason for this: a small group of owners believe the quality of play did suffer last season — particularly along offensive lines — and are holding out for offseason workouts to take place, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. The bulk of coaches, as should be expected, are in favor of onsite workouts remaining on the spring docket.
  • Despite the Raiders being one of the teams to join the boycott, some of their players reported to their facility Monday, according to The Associated Press. Some members of the Cowboys, Panthers and Patriots did as well. The Pats also indicated many of their players would not attend. Cowboys executive VP Stephen Jones said “a lot” of players were present Monday.
  • The Eagles and Vikings are the latest to announce they will not attend offseason workouts. The Vikings’ statement indicates many of their players will not attend (Twitter links); such language has been included in several teams’ statements.

Extra Points: NFLPA, Lawrence, Seahawks

Over half of the league’s teams have now issued statements saying some or all of their players will sit out in-person offseason workouts. While those standoffs continue, we’ve got an adjacent update on the NFL’s COVID-19 policies. The NFLPA told players over the weekend that they’d no longer be subject to discipline for “high-risk COVID conduct,” a source told Tom Pelissero of NFL Network (Twitter link).

That includes things like going to bars and large indoor events. There some high profile discipline incidents for high-risk COVID conduct last season, perhaps most notably when Dwayne Haskins was fined and stripped of his captaincy after being photographed mask-less with strippers. As Pelissero points out, this means that the players who do decide to report to team facilities for in-person workouts won’t have to live in quarantine. Pelissero reports the NFL will still maintain the right to hand down discipline for violating protocols inside team facilities.

Here are a couple other notes from around the league on a quiet Sunday night:

  • Not that it’s any secret the Jaguars are taking Trevor Lawrence, but we’ve got some more info on what’s going down behind the scenes. Urban Meyer pretty much publicly acknowledged a couple weeks ago that the team would draft the Clemson passer first overall later this month, and it sounds like the budding relationship is going well. Jacksonville has been sharing elements of their offensive scheme and playbook with Lawrence to see what he can retain, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter video link). These zoom sessions have apparently been going well, as Lawrence has “impressed them” by “being able to talk like he’s already a member” of the team, Rapoport says.
  • There was a lot of drama surrounding Russell Wilson this offseason, which led to trade rumors, but it sounds like he’s been very engaged in the Seahawks’ offseason plans. Running back Chris Carson signed a two-year deal to stay in Seattle despite interest from a number of other teams, and he recently revealed that Wilson played a big role in recruiting him. “He was definitely in my ear,” Carson said, via John Boyle of the team’s official site. “We talked about it before the season ended that we didn’t want this to be the last year we played with each other. He definitely was in my ear during the offseason.” He also said fellow running back Rashaad Penny played a big role in recruiting him back. Wilson’s efforts here, as well as his recent reassurances to Carlos Dunlap, seem to indicate he isn’t planning on leaving the Seahawks anytime soon.

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:

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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:

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chargers, Falcons, Steelers, Texans, Jets To Skip OTAs

3:57pm: Add the Jets and Texans to this list. They are the 13th and 14th teams to reveal players will not show up Monday. Veteran NFL reporter Aaron Wilson tweeted the Texans voted not to attend. Though, the Jets (Twitter link) join the Chargers and Falcons by pointing out that “many players” have agreed to do so. Some are likely to attend workouts.

3:47pm: Three more teams joined the lot of those who have pledged to pass on the NFL’s in-person OTAs this spring. The Chargers, Falcons and Steelers indicated all or most of their players will not attend workouts at team facilities.

The Bolts and Falcons’ statements said “many” of their respective players will not attend workouts (Twitter links), while the Steelers’ statement (on Twitter) provided no such qualifier.

Thus far, these three join the Broncos, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Bears, Browns, Giants, Patriots, Lions and Raiders in vowing to stay away from team facilities this offseason. The Steelers’ statement indicated the protocols that were in place last season are not entirely present for the NFL’s offseason program, creating confusion. Teams can begin holding onsite offseason workouts Monday, and more than half the league’s franchises are set to do so.

The NFL and NFLPA have been discussing offseason protocols for several weeks. No resolution has come, leading union president J.C. Tretter to call for these boycotts. The Chargers, Steelers and Falcons will proceed virtually, though some players — presumably the ones with workout bonuses — will likely show up. It will be interesting how teams navigate this matter after the draft. Draft picks and UDFAs can gain more from onsite offseason work, with the latter group not exactly in position to shun developmental opportunities. How rookies proceed may influence how certain veterans do as well.

For now, however, there are 12 teams who have come forward to say they will stay away from OTAs due to COVID-19 concerns. That list may continue expanding ahead of Monday.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bears, Browns, Giants Latest To Opt-Out Of Offseason Workouts

Well, they’re falling like dominos now. A handful of teams had already issued statements through the NFLPA declaring their opposition to in-person offseason workouts, and now three more clubs have joined them.

The Bears, Browns, and Giants became the latest three teams to announce they prefer a virtual offseason, which the NFL had last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read the statements from this new trio respectively through these Twitter links. Chicago, Cleveland, and New York are now the sixth, seventh, and eighth teams to issue such statements.

The Broncos, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Lions, and Patriots have already done so. Just yesterday the league announced the schedule for offseason workouts, which can begin on Monday April 19th. The Browns’ statement begins by saying “the NFL’s memo outlining how they plan to implement voluntary workouts falls short of what we as players believe is adequate.

Cleveland’s statement is perhaps especially notable since Browns center J.C. Tretter is president of the NFLPA. He was tagged in the post. The Bears’ says “the majority of our locker room,” seemingly indicating some players will be attending. The Patriots’ said something similar.

With this now being a growing trend across the league there is going to be a lot of fallout, and this is far from the last we’ll hear of it. Many players have workout bonuses tied to these phases, so it’ll be interesting to see how that all shakes out.

The NFL responded to some player complaints with a memo touting the benefits of in-person workouts at team facilities, which you can read courtesy of this tweet from Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. The league points out that any player who gets hurt at an in-person workout will be covered financially, but a player who gets hurt while working out on their own won’t be. More teams will likely follow suit in the coming days, so stay tuned.

Broncos, Seahawks, Bucs To Skip Onsite Offseason Workouts

6:33pm: Add the Buccaneers to this list. The defending Super Bowl champions will follow the Broncos and Seahawks, with players voting to skip onsite workouts (Twitter link). They will move forward virtually.

6:01pm: Absent an agreement between the NFL and NFLPA on how this offseason will be structured, teams can begin holding voluntary workouts April 19. As of Tuesday, at least two teams are not on track to do so.

Broncos and Seahawks players voted to skip the voluntary portion of this offseason’s workouts — which covers everything except the yet-to-be-scheduled June minicamp — due to COVID-19 concerns.

With offseason programs starting in less than a week and without adequate protocols in place in order for us players to return safely, we will be exercising our right to not participate in voluntary offseason workouts,” Broncos players said in a statement (Twitter link); Seahawks players’ statement can be read here (Twitter link). “COVID-19 remains a serious threat to our families and to our communities, and it makes no sense for us as players to put ourselves at risk during this dead period.”

[RELATED: NFL Mandates COVID-19 Vaccine For Team Employees]

This comes shortly after NFLPA president J.C. Tretter urged players to boycott OTAs. Broncos union rep Brandon McManus notified Vic Fangio of this decision to begin the offseason virtually Tuesday morning, Troy Renck of Denver7 notes. Thus far, 22 Broncos players have worked out at the team facility this offseason, per several reports, though McManus added most of the players that have done so are rehabbing injuries. Broncos players have not received an outlined plan regarding protocols for an onsite offseason program, according to McManus. Testing is an issue for many players, per ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold, with workouts going Monday through Thursday and players receiving the other three days off.

The league and the union have spent several weeks negotiating offseason parameters, as the sides did last year, but no deal has been reached. Suspicion exists in NFLPA ranks that the NFL is running out the clock until April 19 to create a scenario where teams can begin holding workouts with no agreement in place, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Last year, the NFL conducted an entirely virtual offseason. Some onsite work is expected this year, but barring an agreement between the league and the union, the Broncos, Seahawks and perhaps other teams may hold fully virtual offseasons again.

It will be interesting to see how other teams proceed. (Raiders players will discuss how they plan to navigate this issue Wednesday, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Vincent Bonsignore.) Hundreds of players have workout bonuses at stake, and the prospect of certain teams conducting onsite workouts while others meet virtually would create a historically unusual dynamic that could create a potential advantage for certain squads.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Mandates COVID-19 Vaccine For Team Employees

The NFL informed clubs today that team employees who refuse a COVID-19 vaccine will not have full access to the team facility or be able to work directly with players (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero). Only employees with “bona fide medical or religious ground” will be considered exempt from the rule. Otherwise, non-vaccinated employees will not be granted Tier 1 or Tier 2 status.

The full memo from the league office outlines additional protocols for clubs. For instance, teams will be required to report their number of vaccinated employees on a weekly basis. Meanwhile, the league is still in talks with the NFLPA to determine the thresholds and milestones at which protocols on testing, PPE, and travel can be relaxed.

Throughout the offseason, commissioner Roger Goodell has said that the league will take a gradual approach as things return to normal. In addition to urging as many people as possible to get the vaccine, Goodell indicated that he’ll keep other safeguards in place.

Virtual meetings have now become standard in the NFL; we are not going to have as much (in-person) meetings when we get back,” Goodell said in March. “I think technology is something we have embraced and will make us better.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.