For the NFLPA, in-season work stoppages don’t work, because no players want to lose game checks. An offseason boycott also may not work, because veterans players won’t want to risk losing the ability to earn game checks.
Although union leadership reportedly is recommending a boycott of on-field offseason workouts, there’s a good chance the boycott will fail. Incoming draft picks and undrafted rookies, none of whom are currently members of the union, will relish the opportunity to develop without veterans there to consume key reps. And if young players show that they can be trusted, they will have a better chance to supplant older and more expensive veterans on the 53-man roster — especially if those veterans choose not to participate in offseason workouts.
Beyond the players with six-figure payments tied to showing up for the vast majority of the voluntary workouts, players with six- and seven-figure base salaries will want to protect their turf by showing up, getting in shape, receiving practice reps, and more importantly keeping rookies and other unproven players from earning first-team opportunities.
Union leadership ostensibly is concerned about the pandemic. Given, however, the manner in which the NFL has proven that it can effectively co-exist with the virus, it’s hard to think that players would become less safe working out at team facilities than they would be while working out on their own.
Remember, the union primarily is run by older players. Older players naturally benefit from the lack of offseason reps for everyone. In this year, with a drastically reduced salary cap that could make teams more inclined to entrust key roles to younger, cheaper players, it makes sense that older players would prefer young players to have no offseason chances to learn the ropes.
Thus, the challenge for the union becomes persuading young players who would benefit most from showing up when veterans don’t to agree to stay away. Given the unique realities of pro football’s rank and file, it’s unlikely that players who otherwise face getting cut in September will sacrifice their ability to enhance their standing by participating in any and all offseason workouts.