In a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Tuesday, word came of a torn Achilles injury that will end the season of Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James. Since the injury occurred while James was engaged in a workout outside of Denver’s practice facility, it immediately became big news.
So they are going to take his contract for working out in the off-season??? https://t.co/rJK7xrqpv6— Patrick Mahomes II (@PatrickMahomes) May 4, 2021
Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill also weighed in:
So did former Chiefs offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who responded to another Tweet on the subject from former Chief Chris Conley.
Doesn’t change the fact that the contracts we sign contain language stating that if we get hurt outside the facility, they can void our deal. Always been this way. It’s a very real possibility and a major downside to skipping OTAs. And that risk should be well known to players. https://t.co/uZYnMsBXQE— Mitchell Schwartz (@MitchSchwartz71) May 4, 2021
What it means
And so we have the first substantive example of the risk that a large number of players started assuming when they — with the encouragement of their union, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) — decided to boycott the voluntary in-person portions of their teams’ offseason workouts.
As Schwartz pointed out, this has long been a feature of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the NFLPA: if a player sustains a significant injury outside the team facility, the team can void their contract. But until this season, the union has not actively encouraged its members to skip the voluntary portions of teams’ offseason workouts and other in-person activities.
Players from at least 19 teams — not including the Chiefs, but including the Broncos — have issued statements through the NFLPA supporting the union’s position about voluntary in-person activities, which it says it is taking because of increased risks to its players during the coronavirus pandemic. Most of these statements stated plainly that none of the players from the involved teams would participate in voluntary in-person workouts. Others expressed support for the boycott but said that it would be up to the team’s individual players to make their own decisions about what to do.
It is believed that players from the Chiefs — as well as several other teams with larger numbers of players who receive contract bonuses based on the participation in voluntary offseason activities — were not encouraged to join the union’s boycott.
It is not known how much the union emphasized the contract risks players would be taking by conducting workouts outside team facilities. And it’s possible that the Broncos — as well as other teams that will soon be in similar situations — might choose not to enforce their right to void James’ deal.
If teams do nothing in these circumstances, it could set a precedent that the union could claim as a victory. As Conley noted — and Mahomes and Hill inferred — players may not be contractually obligated to do workouts outside their team facilities. Most, however, feel it is something that teams (and fans) expect.
But if teams exercise their rights to void player deals, it could take a lot of the energy out of the union’s boycott; some players may decide that participating in it just isn’t worth the risk to their livelihoods.
Meanwhile, Phase One of teams’ voluntary offseason programs — which this season, has in-person activities, “limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation only” but requires that all meetings are held virtually — continues through May 14.
Phase Two — which will take place May 17-21 — will also be voluntary, but “on-field workouts may include individual player instruction and drills as well as team practice conducted on a ‘separates’ basis.”
Teams’ mandatory 10-day minicamps — which the NFLPA boycott does not address — will occur during the otherwise-voluntary Phase Three, which will take place between May 24 and June 18.