The Athletic: ‘It’s terrible’: Players, coaches, execs react to NFLPA’s proposal to reshape offseason


Staff member

The NFLPA’s impending proposal to consolidate organized team activities and training camp has the league abuzz.

The concept would radically reshape the offseason schedule; of course, opinions on the topic are varied. Notably, those in favor would appreciate the longer break and the opportunity to rest and recover from injuries. The opposition is largely concerned about the way it would cut away from time with their families.

“It’s terrible,” said an NFL assistant coach who was granted anonymity so he could speak freely on the topic. “Might as well go back to (coaching) college. Coaches and staffers would never have time off. Maybe February.”

Under the current format, the offseason program runs from April to June, with everything voluntary for players except a one-week minicamp. Teams then break for roughly six weeks until the end of July.

The new proposal, which is still being crafted by the NFLPA’s executive board, would wipe out the entirety of spring ball. Players would then have to report for a ramp-up stretch at the end of June or the beginning of July before training camp kicks off at the typical time.

“For the NFLPA, they ask everybody in the league and they ask all the guys, and (hopefully) they will make sure that’s a consensus that guys would want to (change the schedule),” Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews said. “I really don’t have a problem with the way it’s set up right now.”

Three team executives, also granted anonymity in exchange for their candor, believed the proposal would be used as a negotiating point, as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has increasingly discussed his desire for an 18-game regular season. But there are still outstanding questions. Would the ramp-up period be mandatory, meaning players would be subjected to fines for missing time? And if so, why would the union want to sacrifice a largely voluntary offseason program for an extended, mandatory training camp?

Those executives cited several reasons to be skeptical this proposal would benefit the game. The current offseason program is crucial for rookies to gain a foundation, working in a more casual setting before training camp competition begins and intensity picks up. It’s also helpful for players who changed teams in free agency.

Also, under the current format, because demands around the facility aren’t too strenuous it gives players a chance to establish a stronger connection throughout the spring.

“OTAs aren’t bad,” Buffalo Bills wide receiver Curtis Samuel said. “You get to come in and get to be around the guys. You put in work on the field, but you get to build that bond, that chemistry. That’s what you need to go far in the playoffs.”

Green Bay Packers running back Josh Jacobs echoed that sentiment.

“The rookies, it’s kind of unfair to them,” Jacobs said. “It’ll be like starting them off behind the 8-ball. For guys who move teams, it’ll be kind of unfair to them, too. But I think vets who actually know how to take care of themselves, and go train in the offseason and not like mess around with it, it wouldn’t matter much to them.”

Under the new proposal, those with young families would be home in the spring while their kids are at school; they’d get only a few weeks with them during summer break. There are subtle advantages to the current schedule, too. Coaches have a chance to evaluate their roster as they prepare for a full-scale training camp competition and to game-plan for the season. They have a window to adjust during the break before training camp.

Teams also each have a support staff to help rookies adjust to a professional lifestyle. “It would have a negative impact on your players’ development programs, especially rookies who need that learning, life skills training, etc. before everything ramps up,” an executive said.

Also, too much free time may yield some unintended consequences. “I think (the impending proposal) makes sense,” another executive said, “but players out of the building for six months presents some challenges.”

New England Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo, who played for eight seasons before shifting to the sidelines, was candid about the players’ need for accountability.

“One thing I will say, and I truly believe it, the athletes, no matter what sport they are talking about, they have to take accountability for their careers,” Mayo said. “And anytime you push (OTAs) back like that, you’re going to start to lose some of those guys who don’t have the discipline early on in their careers to stay in shape. So if you think you’re going to come there later and everyone is going to be in shape, I just don’t foresee that.”

Despite the news of the proposal last week, this concept has been discussed for several years, so there are coaches, executives and players who have debated the merits of the idea and how it could all work. They would need to nail down the timing and get total buy-in, though.

“If the players were going to skip the spring or not go with enough intensity, then I would rather have a lead-in to training camp,” a former head coach said. “But they would need to basically report around July 4 to do it right. I’d rather have spring ball, but it’s trending the way of not doing it at all.”

The longer offseason layoff has generated most of the attention, but that comes with a consequence: A longer, uninterrupted grind.

“Once July hits, it is a long season,” Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith said. “After minicamp, it is time to decompress, get ready for the season, get your body right and get ready for the season. Guys work out and get their body right, but I like that downtime before camp.”

Another question is whether it would actually be a net positive for injuries. Teams are overwhelmingly cautious during the current offseason workout program, keeping players on the sideline if they’re nicked up in order to avoid any unnecessary risks. That level of caution doesn’t tend to be there during training camp.

On the other side, the ramp-up window should theoretically curb the early training camp muscle tweaks from players who either report out of shape or go too hard out of the gate.

“More time off, more rest, more recovery,” Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Parris Campbell said of the proposed change. “If you’re doing it the right way, then it’s definitely beneficial.”

Added Cleveland Browns guard Joel Bitonio: “I think there is some science behind a better ramp-up period. As a young guy, I always thought, like, ‘I have to be in great shape April 4 when I show up for OTAs and the offseason.’ (But) you don’t really have a long break to get back into shape there. But if you push it back, you kind of have this four- or five-month offseason where hey, you could take a month off, you can start slowly working into it and then get ready to go. Then once you show up (for camp), then you have a three-week period of not really training camp practices but like an offseason program where they can kind of ramp it up.

Whether they were for or against the idea, many polled for this story cited the league’s penchant to make adjustments. The schedule has been tweaked a handful of times since the 2011 lockout, and everyone keeps showing up to work. That won’t change if this proposal is implemented.

“I would not be in favor of (the proposal), but we’ll adjust, I guess, if that’s what they want to do,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “I go back to the COVID year (in 2020 when the offseason program was eliminated). I don’t think that was good for anybody.

“There’s not a lot of times to get these guys (in the building) anyway. And just to cram everything in at the beginning of training camp, I think, it’s particularly bad for I would say a lot of undrafted guys because you just don’t have the time to invest in the process and learn the playbook. I don’t think it would be good for the game, but I don’t think they really care what I have to say.”