The unexpected fight between the NFL and the NFL Players Association over offseason workouts has little to do with COVID-19, the front-line reason given by the NFLPA for not wanting to attend. Despite the trumped-up basis for the boycott, there are still issues that need to be resolved between management and labor regarding the offseason program.
Although the lingering pandemic has become the stated excuse for drawing a line in the sand, multiple sources have made it clear to PFT over the past several days that COVID concerns aren’t the driving force behind this fight. Last year’s virtual offseason program caused many players to realize that they simply don’t need to be in the facility for the early portions of the two-month session.
Plenty of veterans believe that their own offseason strength and conditioning routines are superior to the programs offered by their teams. For years, players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Ndakumong Suh have done their own thing in the early stages of the program, showing up (if at all) for the on-field OTA sessions. Last year’s experience allowed more players to realize that they can get and stay in the right shape through their own strength, conditioning, and agility drills — on their own time and in their own cities, without having to return to the places where they play football.
It’s not that players don’t want to work. They want to work their own way, and they’re willing to assume the risk of injury arising from exercising on their own.
When it comes to the on-field work, most players are willing to show up for Organized Team Activities, still the clunkiest term ever invented for “football practice.”
So here’s the compromise that could solve the problem. For Phase One (which this year lasts four weeks), players would be able to participate in meetings virtually and work out on their own. Although teams would not be responsible for injuries, attending the virtual meetings and working out remotely would qualify for both the $275 per diem and credit toward satisfying the criteria for receiving a workout bonus.
In Phase Two (one week) and Phase Three (four weeks), the players would have to attend and participate in the on-field sessions for the per diem and for workout bonus credit.
The Packers, per a source with knowledge of the situation, already have offered this middle ground to its players, even though the Packers are one of the only teams whose players won’t be pressured to join in the boycott due to the magnitude of workout bonuses utilized. In a letter sent Thursday to all players, the Packers explained that players will receive credit toward their workout bonuses by participating virtually in Phase One. For Phase Two and Phase Three, presence at Lambeau Field will be required in order to satisfy the requirements of the workout bonus.
These are, per a source with knowledge of the situation, team-by-team decisions. Although the league has decided that players this year can receive the $275 per diem for virtually participating in Phase One, the team decides whether virtual participation in Phase One counts toward the workout bonus calculation.
If more teams would make the offer that the Packers have made, more teams may see their players for Phase Two and Phase Three, if they’re willing not to have them around for Phase One.
In future years, that could also be a smart approach. Give players with workout bonuses the option to work out at the facility or elsewhere in Phase One, but still require on-field presence for Phase Two and Phase Three in order to qualify for the payment.
It’s a term that could have been negotiated globally between the league and the union last year. It’s a term that the various teams could voluntarily offer now in order to encourage more players to show up for the voluntary workouts that are most relevant to preparing for the coming season — Phase Two and Phase Three.