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2021 Offseason Questions: Will Steelers Players Skip Voluntary OTAs?

Steelers practice during OTAs

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion — though the wrong kind of spectacular — in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row. Pittsburgh went 1-4 in the final five, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason, resulting in their early exit.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions. And right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football is a year-round pastime and there always questions to ask. Though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Will Steelers’ players choose to skip voluntary OTAs this year?

By the time of this writing, more than a dozen team representatives through the NFLPA have announced that all or most of their players will not be participating in their clubs’ voluntary OTA sessions set to take place in the weeks following the 2021 NFL Draft.

This fight truly began in earnest last year when there was no in-person offseason until training camp due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The players’ union argues that last season’s experiences showed that the voluntary activities are not necessary. That they reduce the risk of injury. And that, with the pandemic still present, it is an unnecessary risk as much as it was a year ago.

Cassius Marsh seemed to hint on Instagram yesterday that a statement on behalf of Steelers’ players will be coming from the NFLPA soon, and that statement will announce that they would indeed be opting not to participate in OTAs, writing that he would have to wait until minicamp to get on the field with his teammates. That’s not proof, of course, but is strongly suggestive of the possibility.

It remains to be seen how far the NFLPA pushes this. For example, will they still be encouraging their players to skip OTAs next year, presuming that the pandemic is very nearly fully in control, if not entirely? I would suspect that they would. And that at some point this is headed for a showdown with the NFL — while the real losers continue to be the coaches.

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