Virtual offseason program set to begin April 20

The NFL and the players union have agreed to a virtual offseason program that will provide the chance for classroom instruction, workouts and non-football education programs while team facilities remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic. Teams would be allowed to resume in-person offseason workout programs, including on-field activities, when — if — facilities are allowed to reopen. But a memo sent to teams Monday makes clear that as long as even one facility is not allowed to reopen by local guidelines, no NFL team facilities will be allowed to reopen, to maintain competitive equity.

The programs can begin on April 20 for teams with new head coaches and on April 27 for those with incumbent coaches. The program is voluntary for players but if they participate they can earn their off-season workout bonuses as stipulated in their contract. No team is required to participate in the first part of the program, which would run from April 20 through May 15. Or teams can opt only for online classroom instruction, instead of also having virtual workouts. Teams are allowed to provide players with up to $1,500 worth of workout equipment for virtual workouts. If a team does not participate in the virtual period that starts April 20, it will not be allowed to conduct off-season workouts after that period ends — even if on-field workouts are allowed by then.

Starting on May 18, each team can choose to continue its offseason workout program, either virtually or on-field, if teams have been allowed to report to their facilities. The virtual period will end and the on-field period will begin for all teams when all NFL team facilities are allowed to reopen. The off-season workout programs must end for all teams by June 26. In recent weeks, some team executives have expressed doubt that players will be allowed to report to team facilities before the start of training camps, which traditionally open late in July.

On a conference call Monday night, NFL executive vice president and general counsel Jeff Pash said the league has not discussed contingencies if team facilities are not open by the time training camps begin.

The league and players union consulted with medical professionals when they established the workout rules.

"The term that kept coming up was "reasonable and responsible in the current climate,’" said Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president for football operations.

If team facilities have not reopened during the offseason workout program, teams are allowed, although not required, to conduct a mandatory virtual minicamp for veteran players, which would include online classroom instruction and virtual workouts. Teams with new head coaches can also conduct an additional voluntary minicamp for veteran players during the virtual period.

The virtual off-season program represents the first significant impact on veteran players since the pandemic has upended sports. Team executives have been preparing for a draft of players with whom they have not been allowed to visit, workout or examine in person since the NFL Scouting Combine. But veteran players would have been off until now anyway, so the closing of facilities has upset the routine of only those players who work out at the team facilities year-round. The NFL has no timetable for when it expects to allow team facilities to reopen because they are at the mercy of local officials around the country, who are working off their own disparate timetables. The NFL told reporters two weeks ago that it is planning to start the season on time in September and to play a full 16-game regular season in front of fans, although Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, made clear that he did not see how team sports could restart without the presence of widespread rapid testing.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @JudyBattista.

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