The NFL and the players union reached an agreement to establish a virtual offseason program on Monday, revealing a key threshold on the way to kicking off the 2020 season.
The league will reopen its doors to players when every state with a franchise lifts COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. That means all 32 team facilities must be eligible to be opened before any single facility is allowed to host players again. If state, local or federal guidelines prevent even one NFL team from resuming work with players at facilities, then all franchises will have to continue the virtual offseason guidelines established this week.
“Whatever we do is going to be in compliance with the governing rules of the particular state [of each team],” NFL executive vice president and legal counsel Jeff Pash said Monday. “More to the point, it’s going to be consistent with good and recommended medical and public health practices. ... We’re going to treat all 32 teams the same way. We’ll do it in a way that does preserve competitive equity.”
With state governments left to determine their own restrictions in the face of pandemic health and safety risks, it places the NFL at the mercy of the 22 state governors who will now play a major role in the resumption of professional football operations. That includes California’s Gavin Newsom, who has already established that he is taking a conservative approach to the risks highly attended sporting events pose to the public.
Asked earlier this month if he anticipated fans attending NFL games in August or September, Newsom struck a cautious tone.
“I’m not anticipating that happening in this state,” Newsom said. “… It’s interesting, I have a lot of friends that work in Major League Baseball and in the NFL. They’ve been asking me — in fact, a well-known athlete just asked me, a football player, if he expects to come back. I said, ‘I would move very cautiously in that expectation.’”
NFL executives said Monday they will continue to monitor the safety risks and recommended measures in place regarding COVID-19, while simultaneously crafting and updating any framework that would allow the league to resume normal operations in the coming months. Until then, the league’s 32 franchises and nearly 2,000 players will have to abide by the virtual offseason that was agreed upon this week.
Among the key points of the virtual offseason that have been established:
Phase 1 of the league’s virtual offseason period will run from April 20 to May 15. During this period, teams can create virtual workout programs that allow players to achieve offseason workout bonuses. Franchises can also distribute playbook materials and hold classroom sessions, with players earning a minimum $235 per diem for the offseason work. Players with workout bonuses will be expected to determine the proper thresholds with their respective teams for meeting their targets and earning the additional pay. Teams with new head coaches can begin the virtual period on April 20. Teams with returning head coaches can begin the period on April 27.
For teams that take part in the first phase of the virtual offseason period, there will be another six weeks of offseason program allowed per team, which can take place immediately following May 15. If a team did not take part in Phase 1 of the virtual period from April 20 to May 15, it cannot conduct the additional six weeks after May.
Players who require specialized equipment to complete their offseason workouts and achieve contract bonuses will be allowed a stipend of $1,500 to purchase what is needed for workouts. The parameters of the workouts and how they will be measured will be left up to the players and teams.
In the event that facilities remain closed into the summer, full-squad mandatory minicamps in June will also be allowed to take place online, with teams allowed four total hours of work per day — not to exceed two hours in the classroom or two hours in virtual workouts each day.
Teams with new head coaches will also be allowed a second veteran minicamp that can take place after May 11. However, this minicamp must be voluntary.
Should COVID-19 guidelines keep the league’s facilities shuttered until late June, these offseason guidelines would be expected to take the NFL into its final offseason break until training camps would begin in late July.
If the league remains off the field until that time, the NFL and players association will be pressed into negotiating a new set of guidelines that would adhere to the opening of training camp.
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