Offseason workouts consist of football players on a football field having football practice with a football present. Coupled with the fact that up to 90 players are trying to both keep their current jobs and ascend to the final 53-man roster, contact during these practices is inevitable.
So how much is too much? The Collective Bargaining Agreement creates a bright line that is as clear as it is unrealistic.
From Appendix G to the CBA: “Contact work (e.g., ‘live’ blocking, tackling, pass rushing, bump-and-run), is expressly prohibited in all offseason workouts.” Also from Appendix G: “The intensity and tempo of drills should be at a level conducive to learning, with player safety as the highest priority, and not at a level where one player is in a physical contest with another player.”
And lest there be any confusion, this from Appendix G: “No live contact; no live contact drills between offensive and defensive linemen.”
The problem is that live contact happens. In some cities, too much of it has happened. Both the Seahawks and the Falcons have lost a week of 2017 OTA sessions due to excessive contact in 2016. The Falcons went to the league office to determine what is and isn’t allowed; the Seahawks seem to be willing to stick with a trial-and-error approach, despite multiple errors.
“We always practice really hard around here,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said last year, after the latest punishment was announced against Seattle. “That’s something we’ve done for years, and we try to practice better than anybody else is practicing, so in trying to figure out what the limits of that are, we’ve gotten in trouble over time.”
Even with punishments imposed on multiple teams over the years, it still seems that a certain amount of contact is happening.
Consider this recent explanation of the performance of Cowboys defensive end Taco Charlton (pictured) during OTAs, from the Dallas Morning News: “They started him out playing at right DE and that’s where they want to look at him. He played with really good power. You can see the power even when you watched him at Michigan. He’s one of those guys who’d take his one arm, put it in the middle of the chest of a blocker and gain a little control but he’s got to learn . . . quickness.
“He got Tyron off balance a couple of different times and then Tyron just flat hit him in the throat one time and knocked him down. It was one of those days where you get experience going against one of the best in the league. He gave Tyron a little problem with power and Tyron gave him a little problem with power.”
That sounds a lot like “live” contact and/or “contact at a level where one player is in a physical contest with another player.”
It’s possible that the Cowboys are doing what every other team is doing, and that it takes even more intensity than that to get a team in trouble. Regardless, it’s not easy to discern where the line is. The Falcons have worked directly with the league to figure it out. (The league office has not yet responded to an email from PFT aimed at doing the same thing.)
Whatever the rule, it needs to be accurately explained and consistently enforced. While the NFL made indeed be properly handling the latter, the league may be lacking as to the former.