Through the NFLPA, players from Steelers, Raiders, Giants, Browns, Bears, Patriots, Lions, Buccaneers, Seahawks, and Broncos have issued statements expressing their intent to forgo participating in voluntary offseason workouts. The statements were released amid NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and president JC Tretter issuing a letter to players encouraging them to not attend voluntary workouts because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Steelers are the 10th NFL team to announce their intention to forgo voluntary offseason workouts. The Broncos were the first team to publicly announce their decision to not participate in offseason workouts.
“A virtual offseason [in 2020] helped keep us safe to not only start, but finish the regular season as safety as possible and it makes no sense for us to risk infection or injury in the spring if we don’t have to,” the Steelers players wrote in the statement. “The protection we had in place last year are not fully in place now and remain unclear. We are professionals and are committed to being in the best shape possible.
“Our team holds each other accountable to the highest professional standards and we will prepare as we always do to be the best for Steelers Nation.”
The NFLPA’s leadership had been operating under the hope that the NFL would be open to having another virtual offseason. Tretter reportedly told players earlier this month that the NFLPA wants virtual OTAs and minicamps before an in-person training camp.
“It is the recommendation of the NFLPA based on our medical experts’ advice that if the voluntary offseason program is in person, players should not attend,” Smith and Tretter said in their letter to players, via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. “Therefore, as teams host calls to discuss these issues we urge that all players consider their own health and safety, make a personal decision about attending voluntary workouts and take into consideration the unanimous recommendation of the NFLPA COVID committee that we have an entirely virtual offseason.”
Off the heels of the NFLPA and various teams’ statements, the NFL released an overview of their offseason program for 2021. In all, it will be nine weeks in length and is entirely voluntary outside of mandatory minicamp, which has been the status quo. The first phase (April 19 to May 14) will consist of virtual meetings, no on-field drills or work with coaches and the facility along with weight room capacity will remain in place. The second phase (May 17-21) adds full speed on-field drills with coaches into the mix, albeit with no contact. Finally, the third phase (May 24 to June 18) includes traditional OTAs and mandatory minicamp.
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In their statement, the Broncos pointed to the ongoing pandemic as the reason why they will not be attending voluntary workouts. Players pointed to the positivity rates in Denver being higher now than this time a year ago. The Broncos’ statement also pointed to the success of the 2020 NFL regular season when making their argument for a second virtual offseason.
“Despite having a completely virtual offseason last year, the quality of play across the NFL was better than ever by almost every measure,” the Broncos statement read. “We hope players across the NFL work with our union as we did to get all the facts so every player can make an informed decision.”
The Seahawks’ statement was entirely focused on safety while echoing the Broncos and the NFLPA’s push for a virtual offseason.
“While many states in this country are still seeing rising COVID-19 numbers, we believe that a virtual offseason is best for everyone’s protection,” the Seahawks’ statement read. “Our hope is that we will see a positive shift in the COVID-19 data that will allow for a safe return for players when mandatory workouts are set to begin.”
Other teams continued to follow suit, including the defending champion Buccaneers, who issued a statement on Tuesday night, and the Bears, who spoke out Thursday along with the Browns and Giants. Chicago said only that a “majority” of its locker room would forgo voluntary workouts in lieu of specific safety protocols from the NFL, while the Bucs touted their successful 2020 program.
“We had a fully virtual offseason last year and we held each other accountable to do the work it took to win,” the Buccaneers’ statement wrote, “and we plan to do it again.”
The Lions referenced the state of Michigan in their statement, and how they have been hit hard by the pandemic. The franchise says guidance from medical experts indicates they should play it safe again this offseason.
“Players on our team are proud to support other players across the league in making an informed decision about their health and safety, guided by the facts and support from our union.”
As for the Patriots, their statement notes that “many” of the players “will be exercising our right to not attend voluntary workouts this offseason.”
“While we understand that some players will need to go for various reasons and some safety measures have been put in place, we also know that NFL players have a choice which our union bargained for. We saw health and safety benefits that a fully virtual offseason had on our fellow players last year. As experienced professionals who love the game, we know how to prepare our minds and bodies for an NFL season and look forward to working hard in pursuit of a Super Bowl this upcoming season.”
The NFL issued a memo encouraging players and personnel to get vaccinated. And while it is not mandatory, any team employee who refuses a vaccination without “bona fide medical or religious ground” will have restricted access within the team facility and can not work directly with players, according to CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones. The NFL believes that vaccinations will make it easier to return to normalcy as far as the workplace is concerned. That includes the possibility of no on-site testing, no mask wearing and no tracking devices, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently said that he expects full stadiums for the 2021 season. The NFL recently went forward on having a 17-game regular season for the first time while reducing the preseason to three games. Later this month, the NFL will have an in-person draft in Cleveland after having a virtual draft last spring. Select draft prospects will be in Cleveland for the draft, while teams will be permitted to have social distant draft rooms.