The NFL is set to begin its offseason program next Monday. The group of New England Patriots players who report to Gillette Stadium for it will be smaller than usual.
In a statement released through the NFLPA, Patriots players announced that “many” of them have chosen not to attend any voluntary workouts this offseason, which includes organized team activities.
“In solidarity with other players across the NFL and in the interest of our health and safety, many of us will be exercising our right to not attend voluntary workouts this offseason,” the statement read. “The NFL has yet to agree to the full details of a plan for players despite the fact we are a few short days away from the start of voluntary workouts. The threat of COVID-19 is still serious in our community and across the country, and we think it is safer for everyone if we choose to workout on our own.”
It’s not clear which or how many Patriots players are opting to skip these voluntary sessions. Players from four other NFL teams — the Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks — have announced they won’t participate in any voluntary offseason workouts.
“While we understand that some players will need to go for various reasons and some safety measures have been put in place,” the statement from Patriots players continued, “we also know that NFL players have a choice, which our union bargained for. We saw the health and safety benefits that a fully virtual offseason had on our fellow players last year. As experienced professionals who love the game, we know how to prepare our minds and bodies for an NFL season and look forward to working hard in pursuit of a Super Bowl this upcoming season.”
The NFL’s offseason program typically is broken into three phases: two weeks of strength and conditioning work, three weeks of non-competitive on-field drills and instruction, and four weeks of OTAs — full, non-padded practices. Teams also hold a three-day mandatory minicamp in early to mid-June before breaking for the summer.
Last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this entire process took place virtually, with players working out on their own and attending meetings over video chat. Players did not report to team facilities until training camps began in late July.
The NFLPA is advocating for another year of virtual OTAs/minicamp, encouraging players to skip all voluntary workouts.
“We belive that having the same offseason rules as last year is in the best interest of both the players and gives us the best chance to (complete) a full NFL season in 2021,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and president JC Tretter recently wrote in a letter to players, as shared by NFL Media’s Tom Pellisero.
“As you know, other than minicamps, all offseason workouts are completely voluntary despite some of the language used by the clubs in recent days. And, while the CBA allows the teams to host mandatory minicamps, we believe the league should make them virtual just like last season.”
The NFL has amended the structure of this year’s offseason program, with on-field work not commencing until May 17. Minicamp remains mandatory.