The NFL plans to proceed with an offseason program, regardless of whether the NFLPA tells its members to show up.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the league has communicated to all teams the contours of the 2021 offseason program. The NFL believes that the various phases and activities comply with the league’s rights under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, along with the COVID-19 protocols developed jointly with the NFLPA last year.
Under the NFL’s plan, the first two phases of the offseason program will happen virtually. Players who participate will receive a per diem of $275 and credit toward the minimum participation necessary to receive workout bonuses.
Phase One will last four weeks. Phase Two covers May 17 to May 21. Phase Three, the only phase that will consist of on-field work, begins on May 24 and concludes on June 18.
For Phase Three, all in-season COVID-19 protocols will apply, including daily testing via on-site MESA PCR technology. Results, which have proven to be as reliable as off-site PCR testing, will be generated within 30 minutes. (Players who get vaccinated may not be required to submit to daily testing; the league and the union continue to discuss that wrinkle.)
During Phase Three, there will be up to 10 voluntary practices and a three-day mandatory minicamp.
As the league sees it, the on-site, on-field portion of the offseason program gives the players a chance to do what they’ll be doing anyway — getting ready for the season. The league believes that team facilities are safer than any other potential workout location, as it relates to the pandemic.
As it relates to any injuries suffered at the facility, players have protection against lost wages in the season. Players who get injured elsewhere can be placed on the non-football injury list and not be paid, at the discretion of their teams.
Rookie minicamps can be held during Phase Two of the program, which means that even before veteran players have a chance to show up and practice on the field, draft picks, undrafted rookies, eligible non-rookies, and players invited to participate on a tryout basis will be at the facility. Players undoubtedly will attend the rookie minicamp held by every team, even those teams that have issued a statement expressing an intention to boycott the proceedings.
The league and the union continue to discuss the offseason program. It’s possible that tweaks can be made to persuade the union to rescind its recommended boycott.
If the pandemic is motivating the union’s resistance, use of the protocols jointly-negotiated in 2020 and the availability of vaccinations should satisfy those concerns. If this is about ditching the offseason program altogether or simply scoring points in the ongoing labor battle between union and management, nothing the league agrees to do will matter, short of pulling the plug completely on on-field work.