As vaccinations become more and more available and a sense lingers that normalcy is on the horizon, normalcy still hasn’t arrived. That’s an important reality as the time for the NFL’s offseason program approaches.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL and NFL Players Association have not yet made much movement on the details of the 2021 offseason program. The NFLPA, based on advice from its medical experts, believes that a virtual offseason program represents the smartest and safest approach, given the current state of the pandemic.
The union firmly believes that, as a nation, we’re not yet out of the woods. Indeed, the seven-day average of new cases has increased by 6.7 percent from the prior seven-day average. Also, the number of new cases per day currently sits at 17,000 — that’s three times the number of new cases per day from a year ago.
Throw in the mutations and variants from places like the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil (where the virus is running more rampant than it has anywhere), and there is reason for short-term concern.
At very best, aggressive vaccination of the vast majority of Americans gets us to herd immunity at some point in July, at the earliest. The offseason program runs from April through June.
Of course, the NFL could respond by saying that there will be a voluntary offseason program and that only those players who have been vaccinated may participate. At a time when the league is unwilling and unable to mandate vaccinations, this is the kind of move that could get plenty of players to choose to get the shot and show up.
Young players and players who are hoping to develop and to prove themselves will gladly do whatever they have to do to qualify for the offseason program. Thus, the union’s resistance quite possibly boils down to the fact that the veteran players who run the union prefer, as people like Bucs coach Bruce Arians have pointed out, to not have an offseason program because that makes it easier for the older and more expensive players to keep the younger and cheaper ones from becoming good enough to start claiming roster spots.
If the league agrees to scrap the mandatory minicamp and to make the entire offseason program voluntary — and to give workout bonuses to those players who choose not to participate due to the pandemic — there’s really not much the union can do about it. The program is voluntary. If the league believes there’s a way to safely proceed (by requiring vaccinations in advance or some other approach), those who choose to show up can do so, and those who choose to stay away have that option.
Again, the problem for veteran players is that the young and inexpensive and hungry will choose to be there, and they quite possibly will learn enough and show enough to give them a leg up when training camp rolls around. This, as Arians has surmised, could be one of the main reasons for resistance to a full-blown offseason program.