It must be an interesting dynamic to be a young, relatively inexperienced head coach, and to have the president of the NFLPA on your team, while said president is seriously pushing to basically completely bring to an end all voluntary offseason in-person physical activities. That’s where the Cleveland Browns’ Kevin Stefanski finds himself with center J.C. Tretter, who was voted union president last year.
Since even in the middle of last season, Tretter has been sowing the seeds of what we are seeing this offseason, with many players, almost surely mostly veterans, taking a stance against participating in voluntary OTA sessions this year, arguing that it is irresponsible to do so during a pandemic, and also that it’s simply unnecessary.
This is a labor issue between the employees (the players) and the employers (the owners), but the coaches are always the ones caught in the middle, and rarely get consulted. They just have to deal with whatever cards they’re dealt, which tends to involve less and less time with their players.
“I have had good discussions with JC”, Stefanski said during the team’s pre-draft press conference yesterday. “He is very transparent. I am very transparent. This program is voluntary. Again, we are in Day 2 of Phase 1. It is a virtual program that I think the guys are doing a nice job with. We will deal with anything else that comes down the road, but I am just going to make sure that the communication continues between JC and really any of the players and myself”.
Representatives of more than half of the clubs around the league have issued statements through the NFLPA stating that they will not be participating in OTAs. While some statements acknowledged that there is not complete unison within every club, it’s probably inevitable that that is the case for nearly every locker room.
OTAs are not set to be underway until mid-May after the draft, but Phase 1 of the offseason is already here, with players allowed to come into the facility and work out with the strength and conditioning staff and things of that nature, in addition to rehab work. A number of Steelers players, and players on every team, have reported for that.
“I respect our players”, Stefanski said about the mandatory minicamp that follows OTAs. “I respect the voluntary portion of this. You also know I am a coach and I think we have really outstanding coaches here who cannot wait to get on the grass with our players. We will figure it out as it goes, but we are just going to make sure we are in the here and now as we go”.
There were no OTAs, no minicamp last year, of course, as a result of the pandemic. The NFLPA has seized upon that to argue that these activities are unnecessary, that the abbreviates training camp, even without a preseason, was enough to get the players ready to go last season. How far they push the argument remains to be seen.