As the NFL comes to grips with the realities of COVID-19, an important question is looming regarding one of the primary sources of offseason compensation for players under contract: Will they earn workout bonuses if there are no workouts?
The offseason programs, which are due to open for all teams in April, undoubtedly will be limited due to efforts to limit gatherings. If there are no offseason programs at all, teams could be required to pay players who would have shown up as if the offseason programs had happened.
While it’s premature to assume there will be no offseason programs at all, it’s not premature to wonder what will happen if, in the end, there are no offseason programs. Neither the league nor the NFL Players Association have responded to inquiries from PFT regarding their positions on the issue. It would be fair and appropriate, however, for players who have six-figure payments hinging on participation in these workouts and practices to expect to receive those bonuses when, through no fault of their own, the workouts didn’t happen.
Again, it’s too early to assume they won’t happen. And if they do happen in a reduced capacity, it will become critical for players with workout bonuses to show up, since qualification for payment typically ties to participation in a minimum percentage of the workouts. The fewer the workouts, the bigger the percentage lost if a player misses even one session.
Compliance ultimately could be tied to a completely different approach. If teams are thinking creatively about the current predicament, as they should be, the offseason program could become an at-home project in attending meetings via web connection and conducting (and possibly recording) specific workout requirements on their own.
However it plays out, the NFL’s effort to adjust to this new reality could result in a new method for conducting and, in turn, complying with the voluntary offseason program in order to satisfy the requirements to qualify for the workout bonuses. Whatever the revised plan, the league and the teams need to be thinking about it as the calendar creeps toward April — and as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make it less likely that players will receive authorization to report to team facilities in order to earn their workout bonuses.