This is the time of year when NFL fans typically are extremely happy.
NFL Free Agency continues to rage on, the NFL Draft is just days away and offseason workouts are finally starting up.
But after the 2020 season, one which was drastically altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, there seems to be a rift between the league and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA).
The rift is how the players want another virtual offseason workout program, like there was last season, yet the league wants players to report to the voluntary program as they did prior to 2020. Throughout the rest of this article, keep in mind all but a handful of these workouts are strictly voluntary for all NFL players.
Below is the schedule for the offseason workout program, this from Brian McCarthy of the NFL:
Here’s an overview of the 2021 offseason program pic.twitter.com/idMebiqtmQ— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) April 14, 2021
Outside of the mandatory minicamp, these workouts have always been voluntary. This isn’t news. But the fact remains certain parts of the Organized Team Activities (OTAs), while voluntary, were strongly encouraged. It was considered the final primer for the team before minicamp and players heading off on their own before reporting to training camp.
This season there have been a number of teams who have, with the help of the NFLPA, released statements on how they will not be participating in the voluntary workouts this offseason.
Here is a list of teams who are staying away from workouts this offseason thus far:
#Broncos, #Seahawks, #Bucs and #Lions players have announced through the NFLPA they’ll boycott, while #Patriots players said “many” will stay away. Under the plan the NFL sent to clubs today, most in-person activities — including on-field work — won’t begin until May 17.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) April 14, 2021
There are a lot of caveats here to unwrap in this tug of war going on between the league and the players. First, and as illustrated by Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network, there is the issue of injury. If a player is injured at one of these workouts, they are covered. If they are working out on their own, there is no coverage from the organization.
Another NFL memo to clubs tonight noted a primary incentive for players to show up to voluntary workouts: Get hurt at the team facility, you have injury protection. Get hurt elsewhere, you don’t and “a club will not be responsible for the player’s compensation or other benefits.” pic.twitter.com/oS46ZkzpAB— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) April 15, 2021
On top of injury issues, the NFLPA is not answering the fact some players have workout incentives in their contracts. Also, what about those second-year players who were deprived of these workouts, and an opportunity to not just learn, but show the coaching staff what they can do as they learn the new system. Of course, rookies will want to get their feet wet at quick as possible.
If you look at last year as an example, when workouts were supposed to be virtual, Tom Brady orchestrated several in-person workouts. Likewise, when the Tennessee Titans were told to stay away from the facility, they were caught working out at a local high school to prepare for the rest of their season.
Meanwhile, the NFLPA is citing the pandemic, and shoddy precautions, as a reason to remain virtual in 2021. Whatever the reason, this seems to be the beginning of a standoff between the two sides. The vast majority of the teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, have yet to make a stand on these offseason workouts, so stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for these workouts and the upcoming NFL Draft.