After further review of the position that the National Football League Players Association has taken, with regard to the “offseason” calendar, I have adopted a bit of a new perspective.
I could be totally off base but the fact that Buccaneers QB Tom Brady and resident GOAT- the ultimate work ethic, team player- was willing to speak out on a conference call with his fellow players, or to whoever had interest in listening about dialing the offseason back, gave me pause to reflect on why. I have been asked by almost every radio show or podcast I have appeared on recently about why this stance. I always seem to fall back on my favorite quote (see Humilitarian.us) - there is something I don’t know, the knowing of which changes everything.
The stance of the NFLPA was highlighted this past week with the non-football injury and subsequent release of Denver OT Ja’Wuan James, who tore his Achilles tendon while working out away from the Broncos facility. My guess is this will cost the union the $10 million he now forgives because of the injury and release. It’s the cost of doing business for the union.
Even club employees who I have visited with about this very topic seem dumbfounded, “why would the NFLPA choose this hill to make a stand and die on ''? I now think I realize- they haven’t. They have used this opportunity to attempt to reposition the league's position and focus on a dialogue that “less might be better”, and I happen to agree.
Just in the last couple weeks some team’s leaders have taken it upon themselves to work out acceptable offseason calendars with their individual teams. That has to be seen as progress but as some teams start phase 2 of their offseason programs these details need to be made in PEN not PENCIL and ASAP.
Let’s take a look back at history. I remember the 80’s and the 90’s when there was no such thing as OTA’s (organized team activities). We had one minicamp the weekend after the draft and we’d call it good. Players were around but on a volunteer basis. Heck, coaches would get away and clear their minds, imagine that- have a life? Players lifted weights, did their work outs but the on the field activities were very limited. Their bodies were in recovery mode. Then at some point in the early 2000’s we decided that it was a good idea to get full units on the field, have a complete and sometimes competitive full team, but pad less practices. It became more and more and the offseason has become intense both physically and mentally. We started the OTA’s in phase 2 and built up to the height of competitive nature. It got out of hand. Coaches felt like these guys needed constant training and teaching. I was torn as a GM between giving our players space and giving the coaches what they thought was time to develop players.
I remember one year while in Miami as their GM and current Alabama coach Nick Saban was our coach. There was no such thing as an easy day. We finished our last OTA/camp in mid-June. It was hot, humid and tempers were short. In most places, this day is treated much like the last day of school. Light work, have some fun, knock off early, not for us. We had a knock down drag out, full swings being taken donnybrook fight during practice on that last day before summer vacation, a month before training camp was to even start. It was bad. I felt like we had pushed these guys too hard and the result was not good for anyone involved. Physicality and banging heads had become the norm.
The common fan does not realize the extent of where some teams take these off-season programs. Not all teams but some.
Fast forward to 2021 and I think the players are saying the same. We are not looking to die on this hill but rather rethink what we are doing. Players are bigger and stronger than ever. They take care of their bodies now better than in any era of football to date. We proved last year that the quality of the game did not suffer because we eliminated the OTAs and multiple mini camps due to the pandemic. Heck, even preseason can be dialed back. In fact, I’m thinking players' bodies felt better when it came to week 1 than they ever had before because the off season was light, comparably speaking. I will take it a step further and say- coaches who were not forced to be in the office to “keep up with the jones’” felt a lot better as well.
I’m for mandating time away for both players and coaches.
I realize it’s a complicated matter. Teams now include these offseason workout bonuses’ that require players to attend supervised workouts at the club’s facility in order to get paid this money. We did this in Seattle in the 90’s though and got absolutely no push back from players. It’s the on the field activities that might just be unnecessary. These decisions have cap and cash ramifications, not to mention injury and benefits repercussions that all need to be worked out. And without questions the rookies need this instruction more than a vested veteran so let’s work that into a “new deal” as well.
That being said we should be able to work out a happy medium. I have not talked to NFLPA leadership but my guess is, this is all they are asking. I don’t believe it’s about players not wanting to do their jobs, or wanting to do less work for the same money. What Brady was saying is, let’s just be smart about this. Nobody is trying to reinvent the wheel or make a stand and die on a hill but if we really care about player safety and life beyond football- for both players and coaches- we owe it to the game to constantly look at a system that now has increased everyone’s workload by a 17th game already, even if it takes mandating an offseason that allows players and coaches to take care of both body and mind. That’s good for everyone.