At first blush, the NFL Player Association’s effort to get players to not volunteer to show up for voluntary workouts seemed destined to fail, badly. And some would say that it has, given the percentage of players who are showing up and participating — and in light of the intense pushback from agents regarding the notion that rookies would stay away.
Agent Harold Lewis, who spoke out directly to the union about the expectation that rookie wouldn’t show up for voluntary workouts, repeated his concerns in comments to Ken Belson of the New York Times.
“When you’re talking about rookies, whether it’s the first pick or Mr. Irrelevant, to tell them not to show up, I don’t understand it,” Lewis told Belson, adding that it’s “complete insanity” for rookies to stay away. “And for an undrafted player, it’s suicidal.”
It’s problematic for certain veterans in compromising positions, like Broncos tackle Ja'Wuan James. He left the Denver facility at the recommendation of the union, suffered an injury while working out on his own, was cut with a non-football injury designation, and now must file a grievance if he hopes to recover some or all of that lost pay.
Although Belson’s article paints the effort as a failure (“After a Workout Push, the N.F.L. Players Union Falls Flat” is the headline to the item), the truth is that the union has secured concessions, one team at a time.
We’ve mentioned some of them previously. The Colts scrapped multiple OTA weeks and canceled the mandatory minicamp. The Eagles did the same. The Bears dumped 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills. Other teams have made changes, too.
This figures to be a multi-year effort by the union, with players either taking advantage of their ability to boycott non-mandatory sessions or using that as leverage to persuade teams to do less during the offseason program. As more and more teams make changes, other teams may become inclined to do it. Eventually, meaningful changes will have happened beyond the confines of collective bargaining.
And collective bargaining remains at the heart of this. Although the owners don’t care if players show up for voluntary offseason programs, the owners have the existence, duration, and intensity of the programs in their cache of potential concessions.
Eventually, the league will try to get the NFLPA to agree to 18 regular-season games. Reductions to the offseason become obvious inducements for such a deal. If teams individually start making those reductions on their own in order to get players to show up for voluntary drills, those terms become far less valuable when the league is negotiating on behalf of all of them.
So even if rookies show up and even if players like Ja’Wuan James should have, the reality is that the union’s approach quietly is working, one team at a time. In order to tell the whole story about this effort, that angle can’t be ignored.