CLEVELAND (WJW/AP) — The Cleveland Browns have joined a long list of teams that are pushing to make all offseason activities remote, like they were last year, as the coronavirus outbreak remains a worldwide concern.
NFL players were locked out of team headquarters last offseason because of the pandemic. This year, their union wants them to boycott any in-person OTAs.
On Thursday, the NFL Players Association released a statement about a virtual offseason on behalf of the Browns. It 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 to not 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.”
Members of the Broncos, Seahawks and Super Bowl champion Buccaneers announced Tuesday that they also plan to boycott in-person OTAs.
“We find ourselves still in the midst of a pandemic with no comprehensive plan to keep players as safe as possible, yet teams are pressuring players to attend voluntary workouts,” that begin next week, tweeted DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association.
“The union has advised players that given the continued risk of exposure and the goal of a full 2021 NFL season, that they should not attend these voluntary workouts,” Smith added. “It is every player’s decision, but our advice is to continue to use an abundance of caution given the current environment.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy countered that “NFL team facilities are the safest places in our communities thanks to our comprehensive protocols that were developed in conjunction with the NFLPA and public health officials.”
McCarthy said the league and players union are continuing talks about holding safe offseason programs.
Except for one minicamp, the offseason programs are voluntary, although most players participate in them and many players have contractual incentives to do so.
In a memo sent to all 32 teams Tuesday which was obtained by The Associated Press, Commissioner Roger Goodell said COVID-19 safety protocols will start to be relaxed as players and other team members get vaccinated.
“The prospect of relaxing Covid protocols in the NFL should help encourage players and staff to be vaccinated,” Goodell wrote.
“Our primary focus at all times will remain the health and safety of everyone associated with the NFL,” Goodell said in the memo, adding that “In light of expanded vaccine eligibility, it is appropriate now to take further steps to educate about and promote vaccine availability and acceptance within the NFL.”
He said all clubs should use their stadium or training facility as “a vaccination site for club staff, players and eligible family members” either through a vaccination day or by making shots available “on a convenient and regular basis.”
Goodell added that employees other than players need to get vaccinations “unless they have a bona fide medical or religious ground for not doing so” lest they be prohibited from interacting with players.
Goodell added, “we anticipate relaxing various aspects of the Protocols (such as close contact quarantine, restrictions regarding locker room, meetings and cafeteria use and the testing cadence) for vaccinated individuals.”
Last year, teams were forced to do everything online until training camps opened in August.
NFL Players Association president J.C. Tretter has been advocating for a repeat of last year’s offseason, arguing that the adjustments caused by the coronavirus in 2020 showed the arduous offseason programs were unnecessary.
The Cleveland Browns’ center said during Super Bowl week that players across the league “felt both physically better and mentally sharper at the end of the season.”
“The amount of hours at the facility were down, the amount of reps were down. And we’ve had this false reality that a ton of reps are necessary (even) as we watch our bodies break down by the end of the year every year,” Tretter said.
“And we just get right back into the offseason and grind our bodies down to jump right back into training camp. It’s a never-ending grind,” Tretter said. “We saw that we can do things differently this year. And the level of play didn’t go down. We still had maybe one of the most exciting seasons of all-time heading into an amazing playoffs.”
Players were tested daily, wore tracking devices, were under a mask mandate and for the last half of the season only met virtually outside of practice in 2020.