Before 2011, all NFL teams would have opened their offseason workout programs by now. This year, no one has.
On Monday, seven will.
Teams with new coaches can get started on April 7. Accordingly, the Browns, Lions, Texans, Vikings, Buccaneers, Titans, and Redskins will. The rest of the teams will open up their offseason programs on April 21 or 22.
New teams also can enhance their one three-day mandatory minicamp with a three-day voluntary veteran minicamp held at some point before the draft.
Apart from the minicamps, the offseason program has three phases. Phase One, two weeks in length, consists of strength and condition and rehab exercises only. Coaches can’t be involved, other than strength and conditioning coaches. Footballs aren’t permitted, except that quarterbacks can throw to receivers as long as they aren’t covered.
Phase Two, three weeks in length, can include individual player instruction and drills and team practice without live contact or team offense vs. team defense drills. Teams can run offensive or defensive plays, without a defense or offense on the other side of the line of scrimmage. No helmets can be worn.
Phase Three, which last four weeks, includes up to 10 days of organized team practice activity, also known as “OTAs”. There can be no live contact, but team drills (7-on7, 9-on-9, 11-on-11) are permitted. There also can be no one-on-one offense vs. defense drills and no one-on-one special teams drills.
In addition to individually negotiated workout bonuses, players may receive a daily payment of $175 for participating in workouts or attending classroom instruction. During the offseason workout period (with the exception of the 10 days of OTAs), players can’t be at the team’s facility for more than four hours per day, can’t be at the facility more than four days per week, and can’t be on the field for more than 90 minutes per day.
The offseason restrictions reduce significantly the amount of time NFL players must work, but it also limits their ability to work as much as they want to work. Some players want to do more because they want to get better at their craft. In order to avoid coaches who may abuse the rules, the rules have become so restrictive that players who want more instruction or coaching can’t get it.
It forces players who want extra on-field work to get together among themselves, usually at facilities not nearly as nice as NFL team facilities. It also forces players to risk suffering injuries away from the team facility, which then allows the teams to elect not to pay the players for so-called “non-football injuries.”
While it’s good that players aren’t forced to spend more time at work, it’s unfortunate that those who want to do so can’t. And that’s primarily cause the NFLPA realizes that, without artificial external limits, some if not many coaches will find a way to put the squeeze on players to choose to do more than they really want to do.