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NFL’s revised offseason program includes mandatory minicamp

In this Nov. 2020 photo, Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter stands on the field in Cleveland. NFL players were locked out of team headquarters last offseason because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year, their union wants them to boycott any in-person OTAs. Last year, teams were forced to do everything online until training camps opened in August, and NFL Players Association president Tretter has been advocating for a repeat of last year's offseason, arguing that the adjustments caused by the coronavirus showed the arduous offseason programs were unnecessary.  (Associated Press)
By Rob Maaddi Associated Press

The NFL’s revised offseason program still includes a post-draft rookie minicamp, voluntary workouts and a mandatory minicamp next month despite the union’s objection to in-person activities due to COVID-19 concerns.

A memo obtained by the Associated Press that was sent to teams on Wednesday outlined several changes to the offseason schedule that was agreed upon under the collective bargaining agreement last year.

The first phase of the offseason program was extended from two weeks to four from April 19 to May 14. Teams can hold up two hours of activity at their facility, but on-field drills will not be permitted and all meetings must be held virtually. Capacity limits for the facility and weight room remain in place.

During this first phase, the league plans to focus on educating players about the COVID-19 vaccine and making it available without jumping ahead of the general public. Players, coaches and staff will be encouraged to take the vaccine but it won’t be mandatory.

The second phase has been shortened from three weeks to one from May 17 to May 24. On-field drills will be permitted without contact but meetings will remain virtual.

The third phase remains four weeks and will run from May 24 to June 18. It includes 10 days of traditional OTAs at full speed without contact and players are required to attend minicamp. Meetings can be virtual or in-person.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, tweeted Tuesday: “We find ourselves still in the midst of a pandemic with no comprehensive plan to keep players as safe as possible, yet teams are pressuring players to attend voluntary workouts. The union has advised players that given the continued risk of exposure and the goal of a full 2021 NFL season, that they should not attend these voluntary workouts. It is every player’s decision, but our advice is to continue to use an abundance of caution given the current environment.”

The league says its altered offseason program complies with its rights under the CBA and follows the COVID-19 protocols agreed upon last season. A person familiar with the numbers, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said 400 players have been using their teams’ facilities this offseason. The league says team facilities are safer than other workout locations.

Players are protected against lost wages if they sustain an injury at a team’s facility. They don’t have the same protection if they’re injured working out anywhere else.

The three-day post-draft rookie minicamp may be held on either the first or second weekend following the draft.

The league plans to continue discussions with the NFLPA regarding the offseason program.