On Sunday, Eagles players joined more than half the NFL workforce in issuing a statement through the NFL Players Association saying that they will not attend voluntary on-field workouts this spring.
The virtual part of the league’s offseason workout program begins Monday. That will not be affected. On-field work under new head coach Nick Sirianni is scheduled to begin May 17.
The Eagles’ statement, like those of other teams, highlighted coronavirus concerns, but there is more to the matter. The union has made it clear, from the end of the 2020 season, that it thought making all spring work virtual last year, as an emergency pandemic response, cut down on injuries and did not affect the quality of play. It wants this to be the standard going forward.
General managers and coaches obviously disagree. One NFL general manager told The Inquirer in March that union president and Cleveland Browns center J.C. Tretter’s perspective is that of the established veterans who tend to be most active in the union, and not that of young and/or fringe players.
“You’ve got Tretter from the players association who’s played in the league for eight years, he doesn’t need an offseason program, like the young guys,” the GM said. “A lot of the players, especially the veterans, are saying, ‘Hey, we did it last year without an offseason, we don’t need to go back.’
“I would say that’s shortsighted. There are lots of players on our team, not just rookies, but second- and third-year players, who need every friggin’ rep they can get. … I think it’s shortsighted to think that the league won’t suffer. If we go three, four, five years like this -- if the league negotiates it away and we don’t have an offseason program -- I think the overall quality of play will come down.”
The Eagles players’ statement said they have “shared and talked about the facts from our union” and concluded that “our players will not be attending in-person voluntary workouts.”
The statement also said: “We know that every player has to make a decision that is best for him, but to stand in solidarity with the brotherhood of players across the NFL, we have decided to come together on this choice.”
Normally, spring work is of little use to veterans who haven’t changed teams in the offseason. Those players are there to help teach the newcomers, and so there will be enough bodies to fill all the positions and hold practices, which would not be the case if only rookies and recently acquired veterans were on the field.
The voluntary status of the spring on-field work was once little more than lip service; coaches made it known that they expected players to attend. But the union has put more and more emphasis on the fact that players aren’t required to attend, and can’t be penalized or criticized for not attending, as per the collective bargaining agreement.
The addition of a 17th regular-season game this year — something provided for in last year’s CBA, which barely passed in player voting — is not popular with veteran players. The union wants to show it is concerned about extra wear and tear, and this is a highly visible way to do so.
The Eagles players’ response is notable in that the team has a new coaching staff and new systems, so on-field spring work would seem to hold value, even for established vets. There also is the matter of contract workout bonuses, which might be tied to OTAs, though Spotrac.com on Sunday listed the Eagles’ workout bonus payout as 19th in the 32-team league, at $270,000.
Right tackle Lane Johnson is the top prospective bonus-earner, at $150,000. Johnson did not return texts seeking comment Sunday. Only four other Eagles were listed as having workout bonuses. They were as follows: longsnapper Rick Lovato, $50,000; defensive tackle Raequan Williams, $25,000; punter Arryn Siposs $25,000; and defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, $20,000.
There was no author listed for the Eagles players’ statement, as has been the case with statements issued by other teams’ players. The team union rep is tight end Zach Ertz, who expects to be traded this spring. Ertz confirmed Sunday that he was not involved in the crafting of the team statement.
The league schedule calls for a three-day minicamp, to be held between May 24 and June 18, that is mandatory.