December 31, 2020
NFL Players Association president JC Tretter is calling for the elimination of offseason practices, including minicamp and organized team activities, citing the NFL’s relative quality of play during the 2020 pandemic-influenced season.
“I believe the changes implemented this season have demonstrated that we can put an entertaining product out on the field while further reducing wear and tear on our players’ bodies,” the Cleveland Browns center wrote in a newsletter released Thursday. “There is no reason for us to ever return to the previous offseason program.”
The coronavirus pandemic eliminated the NFL offseason program this year, as teams leaned on virtual meetings instead. Rather than leading to a sloppy and injury-filled season, Tretter wrote, “Our collective level of play across the league has actually never been higher.” As evidence, he pointed to a record-setting number of points through 16 weeks of play, lower penalty numbers and fewer missed tackles.
Those citations are accurate, but NFL owners are unlikely to agree that they are related to the virtual offseason. The decrease in penalties, for example, can more likely be attributed to the league instructing officials to throw fewer flags. Walt Anderson, NFL senior vice president of officiating training and development, said in September that he wanted to see only “clear and obvious” fouls called to avoid “ticky-tack” calls and to increase the league’s entertainment value.
And coaches have long cited the gradual reduction of offseason work, dating back to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, as a limiting factor in training, development and innovation.
Regardless, Tretter wrote that another reduction of offseason work is in order.
“We are the only major sports league with an offseason program. The most physically demanding sport is the only league that brings their players back for extra practices outside of the season,” Tretter wrote.
“The argument in favor of these offseason practices is based on the assumption that players need reps during OTAs to develop and learn while teams need the practices to gel. Yet, the lack of OTAs this year demonstrated that those theories aren’t substantiated. New and first-year head coaches had success. Newly assembled teams had success. Rookies stepped in and played at a high level all across the league.
“… We do not need to be brought in during April-June to practice against each other — it’s simply unnecessary.”
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, who is 6-9 in his first year in Dallas, stressed the importance of the time offseason activities provide.
“I think clearly since the 2011 CBA, the heightened awareness and need for spring football and training camp football has been evident,” McCarthy said. “I think clearly this year without the spring football and training camp, it’s gone to a different level. I think if you just watch the patterns, I think when people see increased statistics in certain areas, they look at it as progress. I don’t agree with some of those opinions.”
Tretter, who has been instrumental in establishing COVID-19 protocols within the league, including daily testing, in his first year as NFLPA president, also has called for the elimination of turf fields.
Tretter wrote in his latest newsletter that the union “would continue to challenge preconceived notions about how football must be run in order to optimize player health.”