Detroit Lions' 2021 offseason program may be virtual again; who knows when normal returns

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Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press
·3 min read
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The NFL transformed its formal offseason program to a virtual one last spring, and commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged Thursday that might become standard practice going forward.

Goodell, in his annual state-of-the-league speech at Super Bowl 55, said the cancellation of this year's scouting combine was just the start of what could be significant changes to the NFL's offseason.

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"Virtual’s going to be part of our life for the long term," Goodell said. "I think we’ve learned and coaches learned and players learned, that it was actually a very positive way to install the offenses and to work in the offseason, so I think we’ll see more of that for sure."

The NFL shuttered its facilities and eliminated in-person workouts and meetings last spring as the coronavirus pandemic raged across the country.

The league held a virtual draft, with coaches and general managers making picks from their home offices, and players spent the spring training with teammates or others while following team-issued workout plans.

Mandatory minicamps were replaced with virtual instruction, and after a shortened preseason with no exhibition games, NFL Players Association president J.C. Tretter called for the elimination of all offseason practices.

Goodell said coaches "feel strongly" that there remains value in practices, training camp and preseason games, and that owners would discuss those topics with union leadership in the coming months.

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"The veterans may not need that as much (as rookies), so those are the types of things I think we’ll balance as we come into the offseason and I’m sure we’ll come up with solutions to that," he said.

Potential offseason changes could be especially significant for the Lions, who have a first-year head coach in Dan Campbell and three new coordinators in Anthony Lynn on offense, Aaron Glenn on defense and Dave Fipp on special teams.

Lions coach Dan Campbell speaks to the media at the Allen Park headquarters on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.
Lions coach Dan Campbell speaks to the media at the Allen Park headquarters on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.

In pre-pandemic times, teams with new coaches had the benefit of hosting two minicamps, typically one in April before the draft and a second mandatory camp in early- to mid-June.

Goodell said it is "far too early" to predict what next season will look like, whether players will have to receive a COVID-19 vaccination before playing and even whether stadiums will be open only to vaccinated fans.

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The league hopes to resume its international series next season, but Goodell said safety will drive every decision the league makes.

"One of the things that I think I have learned and I think all of us have learned is try not to project too far in advance because it’s difficult to do," Goodell said. "I think (the approach we take) with everything we do is wait as long as you possibly can, be prepared for the uncertainty and find solutions, work the problem. And that’s what we’ve done. I don’t know when normal is going to occur again, and I don’t know if normal ever will again. I don’t know if anybody here can do that. I know this: We have learned to operate in a very difficult environment, we have found solutions and we’ll do it again."

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions, NFL offseason programs could go virtual again in 2021