Understanding the Player Perspective
May 17, 2021
As we begin “Phase 2” of the offseason today, it is important to view the program from the player perspective. The end of the regular season to the beginning of training camp spans 29 weeks. Many people suggest that players should participate in their team’s offseason program to avoid any risk of Non-Football Injury (NFI). But if players were to truly eliminate ALL risk of NFI during the offseason, it would mean only training for those nine weeks when we have protection at the facility. As players competing at the sport’s highest level, the reality is that we must train year-round, meaning we assume an inherent level of risk during the majority of the offseason while preparing on our own away from the facility.
Here are a few other realities that shape our perspectives as players on offseason training:
In the 2011 CBA negotiations, the NFL wanted to make the offseason program mandatory. The NFLPA fought, successfully, to keep the program voluntary. Despite this fact, most players have never felt like they truly had the freedom to decide for themselves whether to attend or not. Coaches, front office staff and owners put pressure on players to show up each spring for these optional team activities, which then makes other players who would have opted out feel pressure to show up. For the small number of players who choose not to volunteer their time, the media write articles questioning whether they are a team player or some kind of locker room problem. It’s easy to see why many players feel like they have no choice but to attend.
Meanwhile, the intensity of OTAs has continued to be ratcheted up. What used to be seen as a time for teaching has turned into full-speed, non-padded practices that are injuring players unnecessarily. There is no reason a player should get injured, beat up or have a concussion during the offseason. The offseason should be a time of recovery and individual preparation so that players can show up for training camp physically and mentally eager to get to work with their teammates.
Last year was the first time most players got to experience not attending in-person offseason programming. For many, it was eye-opening. Players felt better, physically and mentally, and the injury data supports those anecdotes. Now, as we stare down the start of the 2021 season, players are realizing they do actually have a choice in how they prepare for the season -- and that the voluntary offseason program truly is voluntary.
One might say more players than ever are making “business decisions” about this nine-week period in a way that they never have before. Less than half of all NFL players showed up for “Phase 1” and players on more than half the teams in the league have negotiated new rules for the remaining voluntary workout periods. When the public starts taking attendance today, I hope it’s noted that players who are attending will be doing it on their terms. Our player leaders proposed changes to their teams’ programs, such as shortening the number of weeks of the offseason program and decreasing the number of practices, as well as decreasing intensity by converting practice to walk-throughs and removing 11 v. 11 periods. These are significant improvements for our membership.
Players are now viewing the offseason the way our union intended. Each individual player has the right to decide: “Is my team’s program a valuable enough experience to me that it’s worth volunteering my off time to participate?” Considering the CBA-defined offseason, the majority of players answered that question with a resounding “no.” The onus then shifts to each individual team to create a new offseason program that will cause a player to answer that question with a “yes.” The league office has shown zero leadership on the subject, so there is no uniformity across the NFL, putting GMs and coaches in a tough spot.
The NFLPA will continue to support our players in exercising the rights our union has earned for them, even when it’s not popular among the public. It is a win in itself that, for the first time in a long time, players truly feel like they have a choice as to whether they attend voluntary offseason practices. We are proud of our membership and player leadership for making thoughtful and deliberate choices about their offseason training.
- JC Tretter