As the NFL and NFL Players Association continue their peace-time conflict over offseason workouts in the second year of a pandemic, union president JC Tretter was asked to address one of the prevailing explanations for veterans not wanting anyone to get reps in the offseason.
Appearing on The Rich Eisen Show, Tretter addressed the opinion of Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians that veteran players prefer not to have offseason workouts (“[t]he veterans love that sh-t,” Arians said of a world without on-field offseason workouts) because they give young players a chance to develop — and in turn to threaten the employment of the veteran players. Tretter disagreed.
“My job and our job is to know what our players want,” Tretter told Eisen. “And this is what our players want. And we surveyed our players, and the vast majority of our players think the virtual offseason is the best for this year. And that wasn’t just the veterans saying that. Just as many young guys, just as many guys with one year of experience, two years of experience, three years of experience responded saying that they think the virtual offseason is the best thing for them this year as the older guys did. So that’s a narrative that just doesn’t have any factor or proof to it. It’s just used to try to divide the union. But we know what we want. We have players talk and we as a union are in charge of representing what all players want, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Without knowing much more about the survey (e.g., how the question was phrased, how many players responded, how many didn’t respond, and whether the young players who want no offseason program have job security), it’s impossible to properly scrutinize those comments and/or to determine the reliability of the results. Regardless, the notion that Arians or anyone else is trying to divide the union misses the mark. The union necessarily is divided; its goal should be to avoid taking positions that highlight those divides.
The work force isn’t homogenous. The offseason complement of 90 players inevitably gets cut to 53. Each of the 90 wants to be one of the 53.
Older and more expensive players necessarily must worry about younger and cheaper players, especially in a year featuring a salary cap more than $25 million lower than it would have been but for the pandemic. The more chances that younger and cheaper players have to develop, the more likely some of them will be picked for the final 53, over some of the older and more expensive players.
Indeed, Tretter has advocated no in-person offseason program at all, regardless of the pandemic. And given that NFLPA leadership typically consists of veteran players, the natural desire to protect their roster spots will influence their positions on policy and rules.
It’s unavoidable, given the diverse interests and realities of these union members. For some players (specifically, those with workout bonuses and those who would be less likely to make the cut from 90 to 53 with fewer reps), it’s important to attend. For any players who would otherwise be working out, showing up at the team’s facility provides a layer of insurance that working out elsewhere doesn’t — as the league pointed out last night.
The problem for veteran players is that, if they collectively don’t show up, the younger players get even more chances to prove that they’re good enough to take the jobs of the guys who aren’t there. For that reason, some of those younger players undoubtedly will be hoping that the veterans exhibit true solidarity and stay away, so that the younger players can essentially stage a coup.
That’s the problem for the NFLPA. Despite the existence of a broader brotherhood, the scramble for regular-season jobs becomes an every-man-for-himself proposition. For the same reason that players won’t give up game checks via an in-season work stoppage, players won’t give up their shot at game checks via an offseason boycott.
Thus, either the boycott will collapse or the NFL will see an influx of younger and cheaper talent in 2021, and some of the veterans who stood shoulder to shoulder from April to June could be sitting elbow to elbow from September to January, on a couch somewhere.