The new offseason practice rules feature less practice, more offseason


With more and more teams launching their offseason programs, now is as good a time as any to explain the new offseason rules, courtesy of Article 21 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

According to Section 2(b) of Article 21, it’s a three-phase, nine-week process.  Phase One lasts for two weeks, and the activities are limited to “strength and conditioning” and “physical rehabilitation.”  Only strength and conditioning coaches may be present; other coaches may not attend or observe in any way.  Footballs cannot be used, with the exception of quarterbacks throwing to uncovered receivers.  No helmets may be worn.

In Phase Two, which lasts three weeks, all coaches are permitted on the field.   The workouts may include individual player instructions and drills, including “perfect play” drills — with offense or defense only but no offense and defense at the same time.  Special-teams drills also may be conducted without opposing units on the field at the same time.  There can be no live contact and no one-on-one competition, and no bump-and-run coverage of receivers by defensive backs.  Also, no helmets are permitted.

Phase Three consists of four weeks, during which a total of 10 days of “Organized Team Activities” may be conducted.  A maximum of three OTA days may be conducted per week during the first two weeks of Phase Three, and four OTA days may be conducted in the third or fourth week, with the mandatory minicamp scheduled for the other week.  (In weeks with three OTA days, a Phase Two day may be conducted on the fourth day.)  Helmets may be worn, but no other pads.

The CBA provides as follows regarding OTA days in Phase Three:  “No live contact is permitted.  No one-on-one offense vs. defense drills are permitted (i.e., no offensive linemen vs. defensive linemen pass rush or pass protection drills, no wide receivers vs. defensive backs bump-and-run drills, and no one-on-one special teams drills involving both offense and defense are permitted). Special teams drills (e.g., kicking team vs. return team) are permitted, provided no live contact occurs.”

Players receive $155 per day in 2012 for participating in the offseason program, and they must participate in at least three workout days per week in order to qualify for payment for any.

The new CBA has enhanced penalties for violations of the offseason workout rules.  For a first offense, as determined by an Impartial Arbitrator, the head coach will be fined $100,000 and the team will be fined $250,000.  For a second offense that same year, the coach will be fined $250,000 and the team will be fined $500,000.  (Lesser fines may be imposed if the Commissioner finds that the violation was based on a good-faith interpretation of the rules, or that it was not a “material violation.”)

Also, a first offense will result in cancellation of the team’s next week of OTAs.  A second offense that same year results in the cancellation of the next week of OTAS — and forfeiture of a fourth-round draft pick.

Previously, teams were permitted to engage in 14 total weeks of offseason workouts, and 14 total days of OTAs.  There was no set fine amount, and a “good-faith interpretation” of the rules provided an “absolute defense” to any alleged violation.  The prior CBA also called for the forfeiture of a fourth-round pick in response to a second violation.

The difference under the new CBA likely will be the league’s willingness to enforce the rules.  While live contact was prohibited under prior labor deals, live contact routinely occurred, usually without a violation of the rules being investigated, detected, or enforced.  (Long-time readers will recall the posting of pictures and videos indicating clear instances of live contact during offseason workouts.)  Thus, it will be interesting to see whether the teams comply with the ban on live contact in Phase Three, and whether the NFL and NFLPA will take swift and decisive action in the event of a violation.

Regardless, look for plenty of complaints from coaches regarding the new rules.  New Rams coach Jeff Fisher already has bemoaned the impact of the rules on the development of quarterback Sam Bradford.  And as one league insider told PFT after the new CBA was negotiated regarding the in-season and offseason practice rules, “The only thing the players didn’t get is someone else to play for them.”

So why did the owners agree to five fewer weeks and four fewer OTA days?  That’s an easy one.  The folks who have the money will always be inclined to agree to terms that don’t cost them any of that money, especially when the quid pro quo entails keeping more money in their pockets, via a smaller percentage of every dollar gong to the players.

Basically, the players wanted it, the owners used it as leverage to get a better financial deal, and the coaches will now have to deal with it.

18 responses to “The new offseason practice rules feature less practice, more offseason

  1. ^ Basically, yes. And these rules are ridiculously complex and stupid. Set a date when the offseason program can begin. Then have a date when full practices can begin, with general limits on times and contact. Let teams decide what to do beyond that. As of whatever date in the summer, training camps can begin. There are your three phases.

  2. The rules also help bolster the owners, “we’re doing everything we can to protect the players in spite of themselves” mantra, in the face of pending concussion litigation. The softer the owners make the game, the more players will complain about playing “touch football,” so the owners will argue that players want to play more physical football, which has more inherent risks. The players will be making the owner’s case for them. Smart move.

  3. Phase One sounds fairly worthless.

    QBs can throw to WRs but could only have strength and conditioning coach present? Sounds like one of the workouts that took place during the lockout.

  4. It’s interesting that studies have shown that live practice with full pads and contact ends up reducing more injuries over a full football season. I’m not sure why, but there must be some kind of fundamentals players pick up that lead towards tendencies of protecting yourself or using proper techniques during live game play.

  5. The thing that concerns me is the lack of practice without helmets. I feel this can leave to an increase in neck injuries. I know these guys are big and strong but your neck should be conditioned to have that helmet as much as possible so it is used to the weight of it. I think it would be smart to require the helmet to worn in more practices not less.

  6. tommyf15 says:
    Apr 15, 2012 1:07 PM
    Let me guess- here come dozens of “these guys don’t work hard enough for me” posts.

    As there should be. As a sports fan I respect the people that push themselves and people around. I’m not saying they should unnecessarily risk injury, but if they are worried about injury they shouldn’t be in the game. About half of all serious injuries like ligament tears are already weakened to the point before tearing were it’s just a matter of time before it tears. That’s why you see so many injuries happen without contact. The most recent example being jason peters who was doing some simple running drills trying to stay in shape. I”m not saying they should have full pad helmet to helmet practices, but not being able to run simple full team walk through drills, or meet with your coaches to go over plays or techniques whenever you want is ridiculous.

  7. new world order of TFL=Touch Football League

    don’t have to worry about practice injuries anymore…mental toughness is emphasized…how can players get ready physically without contact before the season starts..just seems to me more injuries will happen more in the season

  8. In 2011 there were zero OTAs or minicamps and I thought the quality of play was actually better. Giving the players a real offseason to rest and heal seemed to make for a better product.

  9. Nike new uniforms will include flags on the hips of every player except the QB.

    All you have to do is touch the QB.

    The field will be expanded to 200 yards to prevent injuries.

    And no player will be able to pass gas during the game.

  10. “New Rams coach Jeff Fisher already has bemoaned the impact of the rules on the development of quarterback Sam Bradford.”

    Cry me a friggin’ river, it’s not like Bradford is a rookie.

  11. This is all about the players bargaining in the last lockout, they want more money but they don’t want to have to work as hard for it. Falls in line with many other folks way of thinking.

  12. Hmmm… why don’t we just call it the “off-season” and don’t play at all until July. As long as every team lets their players have a few months off no team has an advantage. The problem appears to be that the coaches are all workaholics…

  13. How many players lauded last seasons strike for the fact that their bodies were not subjected to the abuse of all the usual off-season workouts, and that they actually had time for their bodies to heal?

    I think, in the long run, this is a good thing.

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