After players for five teams (not including the Kansas City Chiefs) announced through the NFL Players Association that they would boycott the in-person portion of the training program that is set to begin on Monday, April 19, the NFL has announced its offseason schedule.
What we know
Phase One of the program will begin on Monday as scheduled. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, this was a voluntary two-week program focused on “activities limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation only.” Now extended to four weeks, that remains the focus — but any meetings must be held virtually. No on-field work — or work with coaches — will be permitted, while previously existing facility and weight room capacity limits will remain in place. This phase will continue through May 14.
Phase Two is also voluntary, but it shrinks from three weeks to one week beginning on May 17. In previous seasons, “on-field workouts may include individual player instruction and drills as well as team practice conducted on a ‘separates’ basis.” This season, meetings will remain virtual, while on-field drills with coaches will be permitted at “teaching pace” with no live contact.
Phase Three remains at four weeks — beginning on May 24. Previously, teams were permitted a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity during this period — plus the so-called “mandatory minicamp.” No live contact was permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills were allowed. That remains the same, but all team meetings must continue to be conducted virtually. This phase will run through June 18.
Rookie programs return
Teams will again be allowed to conduct their rookie minicamps on the first or second weekend after the draft. These did not occur in 2020. In addition, the Rookie Development Program will return. It runs from May 17 through July 2.
Vaccinations are being encouraged — with a big stick
Meanwhile, the league is encouraging teams to make coronavirus vaccines available to players and staff — although a memo sent to teams on Tuesday said that unvaccinated players and staff would be kept out of critical areas of their facilities.
The league informed clubs their Tier 1 and 2 employees (excluding players) “should be expected to be vaccinated unless they have a bona fide medical or religious ground for not doing so.” Those who refuse vaccination without either a religious or medical reason will not be eligible for Tier 1 or 2 status “and therefore will not be permitted access to the ‘football only’ restricted area and may not work directly or in close proximity with players,” per the memo.
It’s important to note that while the NFLPA has not agreed to the new schedule — although as NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero noted, they didn’t really have to.
The NFLPA — which has been pushing for an all-virtual offseason and urging players to boycott — didn’t agree to the new plan, per source. But the NFL has the right to unilaterally implement rules as permitted under the CBA. Everything is voluntary prior to the mandatory minicamp.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) April 14, 2021
Reports indicate that the league and the NFLPA continue to be in negotiations about how the offseason will play out. The NFLPA appears to have won the concession they wanted — virtual meetings at least during Phase One — but whether the other two phases of the offseason program will remain as announced is still unknown.
Expect continued negotiations between the NFL and NFLPA on teams' offseason programs. The NFL released a schedule for those programs in its memo today. The NFLPA has been pushing for an all-virtual offseason. The pressure point could be May 17, when on-field work would begin.— MarkMaske (@MarkMaske) April 14, 2021
We’ll keep you posted.