As of this writing, the NFLPA has issued statements from the representatives of 14 different NFL clubs announcing the players’ intentions to exercise their right to refrain from participation in next week’s Phase-Three-scheduled in-person voluntary Organized Team Activities, or OTAs. No doubt more will follow as we near representation from half of the league’s clubs.
Every single team-issued statement invokes concerns over the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with infections rising again from last month as the temperatures warm. Player representatives have noted that the strict protocols that were in place for the 2020 regular season are not currently in place.
The Denver Broncos were the first team to issue a statement through the players union, noting that “positivity rates in our city are higher than they were at this time last year and we know players have been infected at club facilities in recent weeks”.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are also among those 14 clubs, announcing yesterday that they would not participate. They join the Seahawks, Buccaneers, Lions, Patriots, Bears, Browns, Giants, Raiders, Falcons, Chargers, Jets, Dolphins, and Rams.
In spite of the ongoing declarations of non-participation, the NFL has continued to cement its plans to go ahead with a full head of steam as far as their offseason program is concerned. They have extended virtual aspects where possible, but OTAs and minicamps are scheduled to commence in the manner that they always have.
One wonders at what point the league is forced to bend here. If all or most of the players on three quarters of your clubs say that they are going to refrain from participation in what was always supposed to be an elective activity, then at what point do they simply say, okay, we’re going to do this virtually again?
While they can’t do anything about players not showing up at OTAs, the real question comes when mandatory minicamp comes around. Attendance is required for that three-day event. Many if not most fringe players will feel compelled to show up (it must also be said that there are many players who want to show up, even to OTAs), but will the league penalize players — several hundreds of players — for not showing up to minicamp, if it comes to that?
Last year, of course, the entire spring schedule was done virtually due to the pandemic. Players argue that 2020 showed the spring workouts were wholly unnecessary, as they were adequately prepared with the work that they got in training camp to start the season. They argue that they had among the highest-scoring and most competitive seasons on record, though it’s up for debate as to what that means in terms of value or quality.