NFL, NFLPA need to resolve the offseason workout issue

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The NFL and the National Football League Players Association worked well together last year. After striking a new, 11-year labor deal in March, management and labor basically re-wrote the agreement on the fly in order to allow the 2020 season to proceed, despite the pandemic.

Now, the relationship has skidded off the rails, sort of. The two sides are squabbling over the contours of the 2021 offseason program, with the union inclined to finally take the term “voluntary” literally.

The rank and file are caught in the middle, both as to the current employees of the league’s 32 teams and, within the next couple of weeks, the incoming crop of draft picks and undrafted free agents who currently have no voice in the process. Union leadership has recommended that players stay away from the voluntary offseason program. A growing number of teams have issued statements indicating that they’ll accept that recommendation. Plenty of teams have not yet done so.

Even if they all do (and they all surely won’t), it’s binding on none of the individual players, each of whom will have to make the decision whether to: (1) work out at the team’s facility, and be protected against injury; (2) work out on their own, and not be protected against injury; or (3) not work out at all, and be woefully unprepared to compete in training camp. Inevitably, many will show up — especially since the process of on-field workouts for each franchise will commence with a rookie minicamp, consisting of rookies who’ll feel compelled to show up and tryout players who definitely won’t boycott their chance to get a spot on the 90-man offseason roster.

So why is this happening? Ostensibly, it’s because of the pandemic. Other reasons include a broader goal of ending the offseason program entirely, as well as acting out in the wake of the NFL’s ongoing dominance of the relationship.

To the extent that the pandemic is a concern, it’s hard to understand why. For starters, players can easily address COVID concerns by getting vaccinated. Or, if they decide not to receive the shot(s), they can show up pursuant to the same protocols that the league and union jointly negotiated last July.

The league has offered to relax those protocols for players who choose to be vaccinated. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFLPA still hasn’t responded to the league’s March 26 proposal on that very topic.

Even without reduced standards for vaccinated players, it’s unclear why the union suddenly resists the protocols to which they agreed last year. Does union leadership believe players won’t work out somewhere? If they’re going to work out anywhere, they’re better off working out at the team facility.

Hopefully, union leadership is explaining this angle to the players who are being asked to stay away. Work out on your own at you own financial peril is the message the NFLPA should be communicating to those who agree to boycott showing up at work until they are required to do so.

The best approach would be for the two sides to come together and resolve the issue. It’s a small piece of a much larger puzzle. As one former coach explained it on Thursday night, it’s a waste of time for the two sides to fight over the issue. The offseason program makes training camp easier for everyone, since there’s less time spent teaching in July/August and more time working on preparations for Week One and beyond.

“I’ll never understand why anyone thinks doing less will get you more,” the coach observed.

The reality is that players won’t do less, they’ll just do it somewhere else. Somewhere without COVID protocols. Somewhere without the free insurance policy that covers injuries occurring on company property.

So they need to work it out. If all else fails, the union needs to find an off ramp. Broncos rep Brandon McManus realized that on Wednesday, after the league’s offseason procedures were published to the 32 teams. It would be very easy for all union leaders to now say, “Well, now we know what they’re proposing. That works.”

It seems to be much better for everyone than what ultimately will become a non-issue. During the week of May 17, draft picks, undrafted free agents, and tryout players will flood team facilities and practice for multiple days. When the next week comes, will most players really stay away?

More importantly, will those who stay away opt to stay home and do push-ups, Peloton, and P90X, or will they find a gym and/or a football field that will best prepare them to show up at training camp ready to compete for roster spots and starting jobs?

The sooner that everyone involved realizes how this movie is destined to end, the sooner they can pull the plug on the projector. That, frankly, will be in the best interests of all players — with the exception of those veterans who fear that a full offseason program will make it easier for younger, cheaper players to get enough reps and instruction to eventually become one of the members of the 53-man roster, at the expense of the older and more expensive players.

22 responses to “NFL, NFLPA need to resolve the offseason workout issue

  1. I maintain that this is the unions way of pushing back on the extra game. I know the NFL had the right to impose the game, but it doesn’t seem that too many players are really all that excited about it.
    Now, the union is putting players in the position of making choices that impact their finances or potential employment.

  2. I don’t understand why this is an issue – but I’m not a NFL player, just some schmuck that works in a corporate job. My colleagues industry-wide and I all regularly take part in voluntary, non-compensated, after-hours training and development activities. A lot of these are not sponsored by our employers – we go and find them. Sometimes, we’re not even reimbursed for our expenses. But these activities further our careers and make us better at our jobs. And none of us make the league minimum salary of a NFL player with zero credited seasons.

  3. Some fights are misguided attempts to improve bargaining power or future concession on issues of importance. This is one of those. The teams have all the leverage & the players will ultimately divide into two groups. The older, established players and those who are both younger & struggling to make/continue their careers. The Union should really be split up to better represent both extremely diverse groups.

  4. First of all it is not “teams” that are going to stay away, it’s individuals that are planning on not being there. Both sides are trying to get and keep the high ground except for the fact there isn’t one.

  5. A well written analysis that needs to be read be every player. Is any player fighting for a job going to relent to pressure from the union and not show up? As much as is written about who has the upper hand in the NFL labor deal the reality is ownership has consistently delivered more revenue year over year. The players get a guaranteed large piece of a big pie that looks like a big win for the players to the paying customer, the fan. This latest effort by the union will backfire badly especially if a marquis player is injured away from the facility working out.

  6. It is amazing, with how little mandatory effort the NFLPA is getting away. The average game has 12-14 minutes of action. 7 Minutes (!) for offense, 7 minutes for defense. 17 Games. Ask a hockey-player what he is thinking about that. Nothing mandatory from end of December until trainingcamp in July, maybe 3 days of minicamp. I wish my union would have negotiated something similar for me…

  7. Yeah, this needs clarification. To me, “voluntary” should mean just that. But really, players are expected to be there by their coaches. Of course there is a legit reason for coaches wanting players to be at as many workouts as possible.

    So either make these mandatory, have them be completely optional with zero expectations that players be there, or get rid of them entirely. The way the situation is now (“voluntary” but you better be there) is untenable. Probably the best bet would be to meet in the middle somewhere with slightly increasing the amount of mandatory workouts, but with a total decrease in the number of workouts if you include the current “voluntary” ones.

  8. Says who?

    Owners pay players a crap ton of money to play a game. Show up or rest assured those owners will find somebody who will show up.

  9. “I’ll never understand why anyone thinks doing less will get you more,” the coach observed.
    I’m going to try this approach at work today … wish me luck 😆 .

  10. They’re at an impasse. The owners want them to play football … the union wants them to sit on their butts and collect checks for doing nothing.

  11. Clearly this is a consequence of last season coming off successfully without all the offseason in person work. That said, one might think young players who are backups, on their rookie contracts or new to a team would find it in their career best interests to show up – while veteran starters might not.

  12. Here’s an idea. Show up when you employer tells you to.
    Call me crazy but isn’t this how it works in the rest of the world?
    If you work at a bank. At a grocery store. At the gas station. The power plant. ANYWHERE. You have a schedule and it’s your job to get there on time.
    It’s getting harder and harder to root for these entitled children.

  13. Are they going down the Fauci road where we will never be safe again?
    One thing for sure, uneven training, less practice and fewer team activities will lead to more injuries.

  14. They’re voluntary by the CBA. The fact the NFL was used to that meaning “most everybody still attends” is immaterial. If it’s a big enough deal to them then the owners can work on this with the next CBA.

  15. There is really nothing to resolve here. If you don’t want to show up then don’t show up. It is voluntary! Now, if you lose your job to somebody who did show up do not complain. It was voluntary! Just because the cheaper guy showed more initiative then you for a voluntary meeting and your lost your job, welcome to the real world!

  16. It’s all about doing less work in the off-season because of the extra game.

    The Bucs were one of the first teams to say they were not showing up because of COVID protocol concerns, but 2 months ago they were all on boats together with their families and no one had a mask on. It has nothing to do with the protocols

  17. “Here’s an idea. Show up when you employer tells you to.
    Call me crazy but isn’t this how it works in the rest of the world?
    If you work at a bank. At a grocery store. At the gas station. The power plant. ANYWHERE. You have a schedule and it’s your job to get there on time.
    It’s getting harder and harder to root for these entitled children.”

    Apparently you missed the word “voluntary” with respect to these workouts. Your employer cannot require you to show up to a voluntary activity regardless of whether you work at a bank, grocery, gas station, or powerplant.

    Voluntary means that there is no schedule, and no requirement for you to show up on time or show up at all.

  18. I’m too lazy to research how workout bonuses are impacted by this. I assume if they don’t show, they don’t get the bonus, meaning the NFLPA is asking those players with workout bonuses to give up some cash. If I were a player, I wouldn’t agree to that crap unless the union agreed to cover my lost bonuses.

  19. mogogo1 says:
    They’re voluntary by the CBA. The fact the NFL was used to that meaning “most everybody still attends” is immaterial. If it’s a big enough deal to them then the owners can work on this with the next CBA.

    You’re absolutely correct, and I personally don’t care who shows up to voluntary workouts and who doesn’t, nor do I view management as victims here.
    But I said it yesterday and I’ll repeat: Just be honest and admit you don’t want to work if you aren’t contractually obligated to and aren’t getting paid. I can respect that. Stop pretending you’re deeply concerned about your employer’s plans for protecting you from the virus when the documented behavior of too many players clearly indicates they aren’t afraid of COVID, which has become the new catch-all excuse for everything.
    Also, how about each player does what his conscience tells him to, but stop using the union to try and coerce entire teams into boycotting. There are young guys that need or want the work, or have workout bonuses at stake. How many of them will buck the veterans and the union and make themselves pariahs by showing up, even though they may want to? Not all that many, I would guess.
    It doesn’t seem as though some of the veterans are making the decision all that “voluntary” for everyone else.

  20. The NFLPA is using Covid as an excuse for this when the teams played an entire season during the height of the pandemic..weak. Absolutely NO reason players shouldn’t attend the voluntary workouts. It was obvious the quality of play in the first 4-6 games of last season suffered because of no workouts and OTA’s, particularly for the younger players. I’d suggest teams cut some of the fringe vets and save some money. Let the rookies and younger players compete for spots. The NFLPA is this years ‘virus” for the NFL to manage.

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