Through the NFLPA, players from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks have issued statements expressing their intent to forgo participating in voluntary offseason workouts. The statements were released amid NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and president JC Tretter issuing a letter to players encouraging them to not attend voluntary workouts because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The NFLPA’s leadership has been operating under the hope that the NFL would be open to having another virtual offseason. Tretter reportedly told players earlier this month that the NFLPA wants virtual OTAs and minicamps before an in-person training camp. The NFL countered by proposing that the first two weeks of offseason programs be virtual before starting in-person sessions. Based on the NFLPA’s letter to the players, along with the Broncos, Seahawks and Buccaneers’ statements through the NFLPA, the NFL’s counter is not good enough.
“It is the recommendation of the NFLPA based on our medical experts’ advice that if the voluntary offseason program is in person, players should not attend,” Smith and Tretter said in their letter to players, via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. “Therefore, as teams host calls to discuss these issues we urge that all players consider their own health and safety, make a personal decision about attending voluntary workouts and take into consideration the unanimous recommendation of the NFLPA COVID committee that we have an entirely virtual offseason.”
In their statement, the Broncos pointed to the ongoing pandemic as the reason why they will not be attending voluntary workouts. Players pointed to the positivity rates in Denver being higher now than this time a year ago. The Broncos’ statement also pointed to the success of the 2020 NFL regular season when making their argument for a second virtual offseason.
“Despite having a completely virtual offseason last year, the quality of play across the NFL was better than ever by almost every measure,” the Broncos statement read. “We hope players across the NFL work with our union as we did to get all the facts so every player can make an informed decision.”
The Seahawks’ statement was entirely focused on safety while echoing the Broncos and the NFLPA’s push for a virtual offseason.
“While many states in this country are still seeing rising COVID-19 numbers, we believe that a virtual offseason is best for everyone’s protection,” the Seahawks’ statement read. “Our hope is that we will see a positive shift in the COVID-19 data that will allow for a safe return for players when mandatory workouts are set to begin.”
More teams are expected to follow suit after the defending champion Buccaneers issued their statement on Tuesday night.
“We had a fully virtual offseason last year and we held each other accountable to do the work it took to win,” the Buccaneers’ statement wrote, “and we plan to do it again.”
The NFL issued a memo earlier in the day encouraging players and personnel to get vaccinated. And while it is not mandatory, any team employee who refuses a vaccination without “bona fide medical or religious ground” will have restricted access within the team facility and can not work directly with players, according to CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones. The NFL believes that vaccinations will make it easier to return to normalcy as far as the workplace is concerned. That includes the possibility of no on-site testing, no mask wearing and no tracking devices, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently said that he expects full stadiums for the 2021 season. The NFL recently went forward on having a 17-game regular season for the first time while reducing the preseason to three games. Later this month, the NFL will have an in-person draft in Cleveland after having a virtual draft last spring. Select draft prospects will be in Cleveland for the draft, while teams will be permitted to have social distant draft rooms.