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NFL’s revised offseason program includes mandatory minicamp

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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

Members of the Denver Broncos — who have had 22 players in their building this offseason — and the Seattle Seahawks — who had no COVID-19 cases last season — became the first to declare their intention to stay away from the in-person gatherings this spring.

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.

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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.

In a memo sent to all 32 teams Tuesday which was obtained by The Associated Press, Commissioner Roger Goodell said COVID-19 safety protocols will start to be relaxed as players and other team members get vaccinated.

“The prospect of relaxing Covid protocols in the NFL should help encourage players and staff to be vaccinated,” Goodell wrote.

“Our primary focus at all times will remain the health and safety of everyone associated with the NFL,” Goodell said in the memo, adding that “In light of expanded vaccine eligibility, it is appropriate now to take further steps to educate about and promote vaccine availability and acceptance within the NFL.”

He said all clubs should use their stadium or training facility as “a vaccination site for club staff, players and eligible family members” either through a vaccination day or by making shots available “on a convenient and regular basis.”

Goodell added that employees other than players need to get vaccinations “unless they have a bona fide medical or religious ground for not doing so” lest they be prohibited from interacting with players.

NFL Players Association president J.C. Tretter has been advocating for a repeat of last year’s offseason, arguing that the adjustments caused by the coronavirus in 2020 showed the arduous offseason programs were unnecessary.

The Cleveland Browns’ center said during Super Bowl week that players across the league “felt both physically better and mentally sharper at the end of the season.”

“The amount of hours at the facility were down, the amount of reps were down. And we’ve had this false reality that a ton of reps are necessary (even) as we watch our bodies break down by the end of the year every year,” Tretter said.

“And we just get right back into the offseason and grind our bodies down to jump right back into training camp. It’s a never-ending grind,” Tretter said. “We saw that we can do things differently this year. And the level of play didn’t go down. We still had maybe one of the most exciting seasons of all-time heading into an amazing playoffs.”

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