Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski and the rest of the coaching staff experienced one of the strangest offseasons in NFL history in 2020 as the league dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic.
That experience will carry over to this offseason, as the players on the Browns issued a statement on Thursday through the NFLPA that they will not be attending in-person voluntary workouts:
A statement from the Cleveland Browns players: pic.twitter.com/VI71lJXWeA— NFLPA (@NFLPA) April 15, 2021
The statement reads:
The NFL’s memo outlining how they plan to implement voluntary workouts falls short of what we are players believe is adequate. The Cleveland Browns players agree that a virtual offseason, like we had last year, is the best decision for everyone in our league.
COVID-19 continues to affect our players, our families and our communities, and we must continue to take it seriously. In addition to the ongoing threat of the pandemic, we felt healthier both mentally and physically last year, which we attribute to sufficient recovery time and the lack of additional wear and tear on our bodies during the spring months. The league-wide injury data supports us as well, as NFL players experienced a 23% reduction in missed-time injuries last season.
For these reasons, we stand in solidarity with players from other clubs by exercising our CBA right to not attend in-person voluntary workouts this offseason. We are professionals who train year-round, wherever we spend our offseason. As we proved last year, we will be ready to compete this upcoming season.
The Browns are one of seven teams, so far, that have opted out of gathering in-person for voluntary workouts that were to begin on April 19. The other teams are the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, and Chicago Bears.
On Wednesday, the league sent a memo to teams with its plan for the offseason program, according to NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo:
The NFL has laid out its plan for a three-phase offseason program. From a memo to teams today:— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) April 14, 2021
Apr 19-May 14: All virtual meetings, weight rooms open
May 17-21: No contact on-field drills allowed, meetings still virtual
May 24-June 18: Ten OTA days plus a mandatory minicamp
The league has not formally approved the plan, which includes just one mandatory minicamp, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out if/when more teams opt-out.
It is not surprising that the Browns have joined the movement given that center JC Tretter is also the union president. In March, Tretter posted an article on the union’s website stating the reasons the union believes that changes to the offeason program will not impact the on-field product:
The good news for our sport is that while the NFL season looked and felt noticeably different from previous years, we learned that the game of football did not suffer at the expense of protecting its players more than ever before. Our process is to follow the science on what is safest for our guys, and many of the changes this past year – like no in-person offseason workouts/practices, the extended acclimation period before training camp and no preseason games – gave us a year of data that demonstrates maintaining some of these changes long-term is in the best interest of the game.
The changes implemented as a result of the COVID-19 crisis proved that we can make the game safer for our players and the product will not suffer. Despite the evidence in front of us, we still hear people within the football community pedaling the same tired excuses and dragging their feet on change. It makes me wonder if their “concern for the product” is simply a veiled fear of change — or worse, a fear of losing control. The facts support prioritizing the protection of the players, and the NFLPA will not be deterred by talking points, threats and hypotheticals.
The Browns players and coaching staff proved last season they were able to overcome everything that was thrown at them, so this latest change to the offseason program should be something they will have little program handling.