GREEN BAY, Wis. – Players from four more NFL teams on Friday announced they won’t be reporting to club facilities next week for the start of offseason workouts.
That pushes the total to 13 teams – close to half the 32-team league. Green Bay Packers players have not announced their intentions on whether they will report for the start of voluntary workouts. Those are scheduled to start on Monday, in some form or fashion.
“We should not be made to compromise our health and safety,” read a statement on behalf of Pittsburgh Steelers players. “With the current pandemic still affecting our communities and country, and the lack of clear protocols and protections regarding returning to work at full capacity, the players of the Pittsburgh Steelers have decided to exercise our right to not participate in voluntary in-person activities.”
At this time a year ago, the world was still coming to grips with COVID-19. The Scouting Combine was the last major event on the sporting calendar to go off without a hitch. March Madness was eliminated, the NBA and NHL hit pause on their seasons, baseball’s start was delayed by a few months and the NFL offseason calendar was wiped out.
The Packers thrived. Time and again, coach Matt LaFleur and his staff, as well as quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the players, raved about the team’s Zoom offseason and cited it as a reason for its 13-3 record.
“I think everybody across the league is hoping to have an in-person offseason program, but we will be prepared either way it goes,” coach Matt LaFleur said on March 2. “Obviously, last year, it was nice to kind of go through that because it really taught us a lot about ourselves and how we teach, but also all the capabilities that are out there that we can use in the virtual world. I thought it was a tough experience but a good experience in the long run, and one we’ll be ready for if indeed we go down that path again.”
Times have changed. Through the passage of time and the creation of vaccines, COVID rates are down sharply across most of the country.
When the Packers conducted their practice of training camp on Aug. 15, the average was 14.0 new cases per day per 100,000 population, according to Johns Hopkins. By mid-October, the rate was 84.10 – by far the worst in the NFL. Now, it’s 11.30, one of the lowest in the NFL. That doesn’t mean the world is safe, though. There’s been a major resurgence in Detroit, which has a rate of 72.02 new cases per day per 100,000 population. The New York metropolitan area’s rate is 55.29.
As momentum builds, it’s possible players from most, if not all, of the teams will decide to skip this voluntary portion of the offseason.
There is a financial component to those decisions. According to Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com, the Packers have 19 players with offseason workout bonuses – fourth-most in the league. In all, those bonuses total $5.08 million, according to ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky. Za’Darius Smith’s $750,000 bonus is the largest.
If Packers players decide to stay home, the team will be ready.
“It kind of hit us at the last second last year. There was the thought that it might happen and then it happened and we only had a couple weeks to prepare and we threw all kinds of stuff together,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett also said on March 2. “I think the coaches did an amazing job building that offensive playbook that we did virtually through Zoom, through the different videos and all the different interactive things we did as a group and I think it really helped our guys.”