According to a source at the Daily News, the NFL Players Association is discouraging players from attending optional, in-person offseason workouts scheduled to begin on April 19.
NFLPA President JC Tretter, a center for the Cleveland Browns, told players on a Friday call that the union is calling for an all-virtual offseason and will encourage players to boycott in-person organized team activities this spring, according to the NFL Network.
According to a source, it was more about discouraging attendance than organizing a boycott. In any case, the message is unambiguous.
The union’s leadership has repeatedly called for permanent implementation of last year’s virtual offseason format, but Friday’s action represented an escalation of negotiations with owners.
It followed the owners’ March 31 declaration that they planned at least some in-person work at OTAs this spring, even if meetings remained virtual.
Several players have already begun exercising or rehabbing at team facilities, and hundreds have earned workout incentives for their in-person attendance.
The NFL’s management council said in a memo that they do not expect a repeat of last season’s virtual workout program.
Since OTAs are optional, it is entirely up to the players whether or not to participate. The schedule’s only mandatory minicamp occurs in mid-June.
However, the union is attempting to render last year’s pandemic regulations the standard in order to minimize player offseason workload.
The irony is that the union agreed to a 17th regular season game, which adds a significant amount of snaps to their players’ bodies.
When contacted by the Daily News on Friday evening, the league refused to comment via a spokesperson.
Numerous players concur with the union’s position that there is no need to attend OTAs because COVID-19 remains prevalent. The majority of veterans fall into this category (some prefer to stay away during normal years, as well).
However, rookies, young players, and fringe players’ prospects will suffer if they do not get on the field in front of new coaches to demonstrate their worth.
Last season, the NFLPA decided to cut training camp rosters from 90 to 80 players, which resulted in the loss of hundreds of jobs across the league, many of them undrafted free agents who were released before ever getting a chance to play.
Around 220 players in the league have workout incentives this year, according to Jason Fitzgerald of overthecap.com. Only 25 of them are worth $300,000 or more. About 100 are in the $100,000 to $300,000 range.
Despite the union’s position, it would seem reasonable to assume that players with the highest workout incentives would have a greater motivation to report in person late this month.
However, one player told the News on Friday that if a guy receives a $25,000 workout bonus, many players would prefer to stay at home and practice on their own for the time being.
According to overthecap.com, teams like Washington, Dallas, and Houston also have “de-escalators” associated with drills, providing another reason for players to report.
Blake Martinez, James Bradberry, and Dante Pettis are the Giants players with the highest workout incentives, each receiving $100,000. Pettis has the most to lose by failing to appear, since he earns the lowest salary of the three, faces competition for roster spots, and may be cut without incurring a dead cap hit.
The union’s campaign to prevent player attendance frustrates coaches, who in normal years are normally able to get the majority of their rosters back for optional spring workouts.
Coaches often yearn for more on-field practice time than they had last season, when it was almost non-existent, resulting in a particularly sloppy on-field product during the early regular season.