NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith says that while offseason workouts at team facilities are officially voluntary, coaches are trying to pressure players to show up. And increasing numbers of players, Smith says, are telling their coaches no.
“What a lot of players have said that they’ve heard from their coaches is that they need to show up,” Smith said on ESPN. “We’ve known for years that this is a voluntary workout where a lot of coaches put their finger on the scale, and while they call it voluntary, they expect players to show up. I think that what you’re seeing now is for the first time, players exercising their voice, or one of the first time people exercising their voice to say no. And frankly it’s probably one of the few times that coaches have ever heard players say no. And for some players it’s probably the first time they’ve said no to their coach. But this is a negotiated, bargained for, voluntary offseason workout.”
Smith is right that the players negotiated for these workouts to be voluntary. It’s also well known in the NFL that if you’re one of the many players on the 90-man offseason roster who has a tough competition to make the 53-man regular season roster, skipping voluntary workouts is a great way to find yourself out of the league altogether.
It’s going to be interesting to see, then, how many of the players who go through with the NFLPA’s recommendation that they stay home are the types of star players who know their jobs are safe, and how many are the ones who know they have an uphill climb just to make the roster. The majority of star players may very well stay home, while the majority of non-starters will probably show up in an effort to make the roster.
For his part, Smith says last offseason showed that the players don’t need to be in team facilities during the offseason.
“There are four unassailable facts when it comes to our offseason,” Smith said. “Number one, it is entirely voluntary. Number two, last year we saw a 30 percent reduction in concussions and a 23 percent reduction in missed time. Last year also saw us not have an entire offseason at all. And we know that it resulted in entirely great football with us completing a full season.”
Smith did acknowledge that around 230 players in the NFL have workout bonuses in their contracts, and he said the union wouldn’t pressure those players not to participate in voluntary workouts.
“We’ve told those players this union is never going to stand in the way of money they’ve negotiated with teams,” he said. “Go on in. It’s voluntary, if you’ve negotiated that into your contract no one is asking you to give up money you’ve negotiated.”
But for the rest of the union membership, Smith is hoping they’ll stay home — and hoping they won’t find that it costs them their roster spots.