With the voluntary phase of the Denver Broncos' offseason training program set to begin next week on April 19, the players released a statement on Tuesday via the NFLPA announcing their collective intention to skip the camp.
"With offseason programs starting in less than a week and without adequate protocols in place in order for us players to return safely, we will be exercising our right to not participate in voluntary offseason workouts," the Broncos' player said via statement. "COVID-19 remains a serious threat to our families and to our communities, and it makes no sense to us as players to put ourselves at risk during this dead period. Positivity rates in our city are higher than they were at this time last year and we know players have been infected at club facilities in recent weeks. Despite having a completely virtual offseason last year, the quality of play across the NFL was better than ever by almost every measure. We hope players across the NFL work with our union as we did to get all the facts so every player can make an informed decision."
Since the 2020 season ended, there have been several veteran Broncos who've expressed a desire to have OTAs this year, citing the needed reps, but no player is obliged to attend the 'voluntary' phases. It's a shame but with the NFLPA president JC Tretter pushing hard for an all-virtual offseason and promulgating those talking points since the season ended, owners likely anticipated that the voluntary stage of OTAs would indeed be skipped by the players.
The owners and NFLPA continue to negotiate on the offseason training program front.
Hopefully, the Broncos can slap together a comprehensive virtual program for next week's phase because, let's face it, coming off yet another losing season with a roster replete with youth and inexperience, these players need all the reps they can get. Alas, they'll get naught but mental reps in a virtual setting.
The statement provided through NFLPA points to the league's quality of play in 2020 on the heels of all-virtual OTAs, no preseason, and a seriously truncated training camp as being "better than ever by almost every measure" but it did come with a caveat. "Almost".
The measure that no NFL veteran can say was empirically better was the injury department. The NFL's injury rate skyrocketed in 2020 as a result of not team-centric conditioning, an abbreviated training camp, and no OTAs, by about 14% compared to the previous decade, according to nflfastr.
Sportico broke down the data earlier this year.
Using nflfastR play-by-play data for every game since 2010 and filtering to only include plays which featured the word “injured,” I ran a t-test (a method for determining whether a significant difference exists between averages) to see whether the injury rate was significantly higher in 2020 compared to the decade before (see below).
Clearly, there was a significant increase in the injury rate, which climbed from just under 1.5 injuries per 100 plays to 1.73 injuries per 100 plays. This may not seem like a major difference, but taken across an entire season, the extra injuries accumulate quickly. In fact, given that at least 45,000 plays are run each season, there have been more than 100 additional injuries this year than would be expected at the previous injury rate.
The apparent increased risk of injury, combined with the Broncos' relative youthful roster (Drew Lock can use all the reps he can get), points to an all-virtual offseason as being highly unadvisable. Throw in the reality that offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has still been unable to fully install his playbook due to a lack of player access and time and the need for those precious on-field reps only increases.
However, the flip side to that coin is the real concern players have of contracting the virus.
But as ESPN Denver's Jeff Legwold reported on Tuesday, the Broncos' stringent COVID-19 protocols, which worked quite well for the team last season, have remained in place this offseason and have been diligently enforced by the team.
So, what is the skipping of 'voluntary' OTAs really about? I leave that up to the reader to decide.
UPDATE: Linebacker Alexander Johnson weighed in to confirm, on one hand, that he will close ranks with his teammates while on the other, communicating his skepticism of the true motivations.
Meanwhile, 9NEWS' Mike Klis reported that the Broncos' facility, which has remained open to injured and rehabbing players throughout the offseason thus far, will stay open. The team is moving forward "full speed ahead" in planning for April 19's OTAs.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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