OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens coach John Harbaugh emphasized the importance of offseason workouts, especially with the development of younger players.
However, the players still have concerns with the ongoing challenges with COVID-19. The Ravens players joined a growing list of teams to opt-out of in-person voluntary workouts this spring.
This raises more questions about the trust between the NFL Players Association and the league. The decision to forgo the workouts could impact the quality of play this season.
“Our team leaders have discussed with each other, with our teammates and with the NFLPA, and in solidarity with the other members of our union across the league, we have decided to exercise our [collective bargaining agreement] right not to attend in-person voluntary offseason workouts,” the Ravens said in a statement shared by the NFL Players Association.
The Ravens and the rest of the NFL did not have offseason workouts last year because of the pandemic. Teams were able to have a training camp on-site but the preseason games were canceled.
The NFL informed teams last week that the first four weeks of the voluntary program will be virtual. The plan is to then transition to in-person work at team facilities.
When asked about the possibility of a long-term virtual offseason earlier this offseason, Harbaugh said live practice is vital to the players' development.
"It takes thousands and thousands of reps to play the game at this kind of a level. Sure, when you’re a veteran guy and you’ve played for 10 years, you have those reps under your belt," Harbaugh said in a March 9 press conference. "But when you’re a first-, second-, third-year player, fourth-year player, you do not have those reps under your belt.”
The Ravens had the league's top-ranked rushing defense but were ranked last in passing. The team was hoping to take advantage of the offseason workouts for quarterback Lamar Jackson to work with his young group of wide receivers.
Last year, Jackson hosted a private workout in Florida with several of the team's wideouts.
Harbaugh said the offseason workouts are vital to the development of young quarterbacks.
"How many young quarterbacks do we have in the National Football League, right now, that are starting? And how many are going to be coming into the league in the next three or four years? And if you think you can just go to training camp and develop as a quarterback, that’s fantasyland," Harbaugh said in March. "And those quarterbacks are not going to be able to line up and play successfully and have any chance against the defenses they’re going to be playing against and move the ball down the field. That can be really ugly football – I promise you.
"You see when quarterbacks go out there who aren’t prepared or just aren’t good enough or not ready, how that looks in games. There will be a lot more of those games if you put those young quarterbacks out there without the proper preparation, and that goes for the wide receivers, the tight ends and all those guys, and the offensive line – no matter what [Browns center and NFLPA president] JC Tretter says."
Players from other teams opting out include Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Las Vegas Raiders, Detroit Lions, Clevleand Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers, Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins.