Next Monday, a handful of NFL team facilities were scheduled to open to players for the start of off-season training. Instead, the doors will remain closed for the foreseeable future, which will raise more and more questions about the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the mental and physical health of players, but also on their wallets.
Unlike last time, there was no official offseason program – the 2011 lockout – players are stuck at home and have nowhere to go. For the most part, they can’t go to gyms or independent training facilities to get the full job they need to start preparing for an NFL season. Teams, league leaders and the NFLPA are concerned that the players’ physical health will suffer significantly over the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, sources say teams have already turned down players who have arrived at their facilities, either because they weren’t aware of the guidelines the league has recently put in place, or because they deliberately ignored the rules. Their routine has been disrupted, and many are concerned about how players will be able to handle extended quarantines, especially since the structured period of their offseason was to start soon.
This week, the co-chairs of the NFL-NFLPA Behavioral Health Joint Committee sent an email to all active players with information on maintaining physical and mental health.
“Establish a routine and try to stick to it,” said the email. “Although the normal cycle of the season has been disrupted, you can still train while staying away from society. “
There have already been discussions between the league management board and the players’ union on how to handle this unusual offseason.
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, NFL executive vice president / general counsel Jeff Pash said there are ongoing discussions about what the spring league schedule would involve if teams could not enter their buildings before training camp. Pash noted that there will most certainly be a “virtual” element, which should involve teleconference team meetings with coaches and players, but could also include some form of physical activity for players, with coaches. strength and conditioning who are already designing training programs to communicate. and coordinated electronically.
Teams generally provide players with an off-season training manual for the period between the end of the season and the start of spring training. A general manager has said his club will have to provide an updated plan for the players now that it is clear that they will not be in the building this month.
“The hardest part is that they can’t throw or do anything on the field together,” said the general manager. “Nothing is ideal right now. “
Teams hope states will ease social distancing guidelines early enough to allow for a shorter offseason program in May or June.
There is also talk of a preparation period of several weeks between the end of June and mid-July which would take place directly in the training camp. The idea is that this period would serve as a mini-interseason program to help players get in shape so there is no overabundance of injuries in the camp.
The physical health of the players is a concern that the NFLPA has already expressed, a source saying that the union doesn’t want “the guys to go from zero to a hundred right now.” Teams are also aware that there could be a conditioning program leading up to training camp, no matter when it ends.
So far, the attention of many players and agents has shifted to the first big chunk of money that is suddenly called into question. Namely, about $ 36 million in league-wide training bonuses.
Players such as linebackers Packers Za’Darius Smith ($ 750,000 training bonus) and Preston Smith ($ 650,000), 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo ($ 600,000) and quarterback Vikings Kirk Cousins ($ 500,000), were expected to start earning large checks soon. In total, the Packers have $ 5.52 million linked to training bonuses, while Bills players can win more than $ 3.4 million combined, and the Chiefs, Bengals, Panthers and Raiders are expected to shell out more than $ 2.7 million each. (Nine teams have no training bonuses on the books).
In their discussions on how to handle the offseason, the league and the NFLPA have discussed how training bonuses could be earned, sources said. One proposal is that they be linked to participation in meetings or virtual training sessions in the coming weeks. It is also possible that they will be won during the proposed ramp-up period before camp.
In the meantime, players who rely on their daily allowances should suffer.
Under the collective agreement, players were required to earn $ 235 per day by participating in off-season training. While it may change pocket for someone like Garoppolo or Cousins, rookie players or veteran minima with no training bonuses and no guaranteed money depend on the roughly $ 7,500 they would earn during nine weeks of training and OTA. Multiplied by more than 90 players and 32 teams, this represents an increase of $ 20 million expected for the pockets of players currently in limbo.
Of course, these numbers will be overshadowed by the millions lost if parts of the regular season are lost. No one seems ready to start talking about these scenarios, Pash said this week that the league plans to start on time and play every 17 weeks. But even he acknowledged that no one seems to know what that even in the near future.
While the teams are waiting, they are trying to control what they can control, and it is the health and safety of the players so that, whenever the season begins, they can be in the best mental and physical condition possible for start playing.
Follow Mike Garafolo on Twitter @MikeGarafolo.