CLEVELAND, Ohio — Browns players, led by starting center and NFLPA President JC Tretter, have joined the growing list of those from other NFL teams to announce that they’ll boycott in-person voluntary workouts, which are set to begin Monday.
Players from the Broncos, Seahawks, Bucs, and Lions and Raiders have all put out statements through the NFLPA that they’ll collectively skip OTAs and voluntary minicamps out of an abundance of caution during the coronavirus pandemic. The Bears put one out on Thursday stating that “the majority of our locker room are choosing to exercise our right and not participate in in-person voluntary workouts in order to stay as safe as possible.”
The Patriots have also said they’ll skip the workouts.
The statements come amid the NFL sending a memo to all 32 teams on Wednesday announcing plans for the offseason program, which is scheduled to run from Monday to June 18. The nine-week program is all voluntary, except for one mandatory minicamp, which is scheduled to take place during Phase III, somewhere between May 24 and June 18.
The NFLPA hasn’t approved the new plan, and will continue to negotiate the terms of the offseason with the NFL in hopes of agreeing on an all-virtual offseason program and no mandatory minicamp as the safest way to reach the finish line again in 2021.
The Browns’ statement reads:
“The NFL’s memo outlining how they plan to implement voluntary workouts falls short of what we as players believe is adequate. The Cleveland Browns players agree that a virtual offseason, like we had last year, is the best decision for everyone in our league.
“COVID-19 continues to affect our players, our families and our communities, and we must continue to take it seriously. In addition to the ongoing threat of the pandemic, we felt healthier both mentally and physically last year, which we attribute to sufficient recovery time and the lack of additional wear and tear on our bodies during the spring months. The league-wide injury-data supports us as well, as NFL players experienced a 23% reduction in missed-time injuries last season.
“For these reasons, we stand in solidarity with players from other clubs by exercising our CBA right not to attend in-person voluntary workouts this offseason. We are professionals who train year-round, wherever we spend our offseason. As we proved last year, we will be ready to compete this upcoming season.’’
The Browns have had about 10 players working out at their facility this offseason, a source said.
In a media briefing two weeks ago, Tretter and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith explained that the virtual offseaosn program resulted in healthier players and a full season through the Super Bowl, despite the pandemic.
“The data overwhelmingly shows that perhaps the most dangerous place to be, if you’re a veteran player, is in an offseason program,’’ Smith said.
Tretter pointed out that in addition to the 23% fewer missed-time injuries, the lack of in-person OTAs and minicamps, and a ramp-up protocol in training camp, resulted in 30% fewer concussions.
“If we’ve identified strategies for reducing concussions by 30% and it doesn’t involve modifying game rules, it would be reckless NOT to implement those changes,’’ Tretter said.
Tretter and Smith acknowledged that preseason games will also be brought to the table. With the regular season games increasing from 16 games to 17, preseason games have decreased from four to three. But the absence of exhibition games last year eliminated the average of 46 concussions that occur in those games each year, as well as numerous other injuries.
“Everything has to be collectively bargained,’’ Tretter said on the media call. “Last year, they had to be collectively bargained, and now we see what those changes brought us. There’s really no denying it anymore. You can avoid soft tissue injuries. You can avoid concussions. You can avoid heat-related illness. You can avoid those things by following the science.’’
Smith echoed those sentiments.
“Given where we are with COVID, I have a hard time coming up with a reason for why we should be changing almost anything that we did last year,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, the NFL is proceeding as if there will be some in-person work this offseason, which begins with a four-week Phase I (April 19-May 14) that includes two hours of virtual meetings and conditioning, but no on-field work with coaches.
Phase II (May 17-May 21) will permit non-contact on-field work with coaches permitted at a teaching pace.
Phase III (May 24-June 18) will include 10 days of non-contact OTAs, in-person or virtual meetings, and the mandatory minicamp.
Tretter and Smith are also asking players not to organize group workouts on their own for the second straight season. Last year, before the NFLPA advised against it, Baker Mayfield hosted a passing camp in his hometown of Austin, Texas. He likely would have done the same this offseason if the NFLPA approved.
“We put out a medical statement last year from [Dr.3/8 Thom Mayer, our medical director, on the risks of getting together,’’ Tretter said. “That’s been our position since last year, was the virus is passed through contact and there’s a risk to be together with large groups of people. We’ll continue to advise them that way.’’
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