This day marks the start of Phase Two of the NFL’s offseason program, which comes in an abbreviated, one-week form in 2021, as we quickly jump into Phase Three (OTAs and mandatory minicamp) next week. How many players will actually be present at facilities beginning today in comparison to the last few weeks of Phase One?
The first phase of the offseason program consists exclusively of working out with strength and conditioning coaches, with other coaches not permitted to interact with players in a football setting. The beginning of Phase Two marks the start of on-field work for veteran players, following the rookies’ minicamp experience over the weekend.
According to Pro Football Talk, only 38 percent of players participated in Phase One, though clarification is needed as to whether or not that referred to all rostered players or was only referring to veteran players, not counting participation in last week’s rookie minicamp.
Earlier this offseason, players of more than half of the league’s teams issued statements through the NFLPA declaring that they, either as a whole or as a subset, would not be participating in voluntary portions of the league’s offseason schedule. Every one of the statements cited COVID-19 as one reason, though the NFLPA has made it clear that they view this as a permanent change, and not a response to the pandemic solely.
As Mike Florio PFT explains, “the union continues to be in a very difficult spot, given the unique nature of the workforce it represents. For each team, the 90-man roster will be slashed to 53. On each team, the prospects of many players actually having a job and playing football in September hinges on proving themselves now”.
He also writes that he has been told that “there’s an endgame” that the union is working toward with their push to encourage players not to participate in the voluntary portions of the offseason program. Though he, and everyone else, remains unclear as to what that endgame is precisely.
The reality is that the Ja’Wuan James injury was a major boon for the league, as it gave them an opportunity to demonstrate to players what could happen to them if they decline to show up and decide that they can do the vast majority of their training outside of the team facility.
I strongly suspect that many players who previously intended not to show up will now be at the facilities this week, and especially next week as OTAs get underway. But, naturally, I’ll be particularly interested to see how it unfolds in Pittsburgh.
Cameron Heyward, the Steelers’ player representative for the union, has been vocal in his support of the NFLPA’s efforts on this front, and has tried to encourage his teammates not to show up. I’m certain that he won’t be there. But how many will join him, when we already know that there are those who want to participate? I can’t help but go back to the endgame comment, and a part of me believes this isn’t about OTAs after all.