Per the NFL’s CBA, organized team activities (OTAs) in the offseason including workouts, drills, and minicamps must involve no contact. The Chicago Bears violated this rule in the CBA by having contact practices in the month of May. While they did not pad up or hold hitting drills, the team still participated in more contact than is allowed per the CBA. The Bears had been warned that their practices in the month of May were too physical but did not make the proper changes. Due to the violations, the team was not allowed to practice on Tuesday, June 7th, however no fines have yet to be issued. While any missed practice time for a young team with a second-year quarterback under a new coaching era can be difficult, the Bears were back to work on June 8th.
However, future penalties could be more severe. In some instances, teams have been stripped of draft picks (if multiple violations of the same type occur), which happened to the Seattle Seahawks in 2016. The young team was eager to prove themselves and give 110% at practice.
“We’ve got a bunch of young guys on the team, and I know me coming in as a rookie, and my second year also, you want to prove yourself any chance you get,” said defensive tackle, Justin Jones.
“So, I can’t really fault players for going too hard or being overly aggressive because this is your dream, this is what you came here for. You came here to play football, so once you get the opportunity, you want to show them that I’m supposed to be here.”
Left guard, Cody Whitehair, stated that it’s difficult to have a full speed practice when not wearing pads and participating in full contact because the “team is young, and we need that intense practice…from the group.”
Any missed practice, even a day, can be difficult mentally on a young quarterback. Quarterbacks drive the offense and are often leaders of the team. The importance of the offseason is heightened for young quarterbacks, like Justin Fields, that need to “acquaint themselves with the offensive system,” said Rich Gannon, a former NFL MVP quarterback. The off-season is when young quarterbacks can see tremendous improvement, making every moment and practice critical in the offseason.
However, Matt Eberflus, head coach of the Chicago Bears, said, “I don’t really see [the missed practice] as a big deal. What I do see is this: As I see our team, our football team has to be able to adjust, adapt and overcome and pivot in situations.
“So how we handled this situation was awesome. Because our guys are like, ‘Ok, that’s fine, and boom, pivot to the next thing and boom, and go. And that’s what we’re going to have to do. We’re going to have to do that to win games. That’s what I was excited about. Adversity’s going to come. It’s how you deal with it that matters.”
Despite the penalty, the players and coaches appear more eager and motivated than ever. It will be on the players to make sure they stay in shape and are ready to go when full pad practices begin. However, it is important to note that this rules violation wasn’t the first Bears offseason misstep within the Ryan Poles/Eberflus era.
Their first issue stemmed from the signing of Larry Ogunjobi and the later retraction of his deal after a failed physical at the beginning of free agency, which likely caused the Bears to miss out on other key players during free agency. Additionally, the Bears had been warned earlier regarding their contact level in May practices before they received formal punishment from the league.
The continued infractions could be seen either as Eberflus’ H.I.T.S principle (Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways and (playing) Smart) working, or as a sign that the Bears need to dial back on their OTA practice regime, which is something that has appeared to be managed since the incident in early June. The lost OTA practice could be viewed as a minor mishap in the bigger picture of the future of the Bears organization, as the training session they lost might not even be as strong as what they gained by participating in live contact in May.
It is important to note that this type of violation is not uncommon for first-year head coaches. The bigger issue the violation has stirred up is the question as to why the Bears were punished less severely than other NFL teams have been for OTA violations. According to Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Mike McCarthy was fined by the league two years in a row for having practices that were too physical. McCarthy was fined $50,000 last year and $100,000 this year, and the team lost an OTA for the 2023 season.
Further, Houston Texans coach, Lovie Smith, was fined $50,000 for prohibited one on one offensive line versus defensive line practice drills, and the Washington Commanders coach, Ron Rivera, was fined $100,000 and lost two OTA practices for the 2023 season for excessive physical contact in practice drills.
Last offseason the Jacksonville Jaguars were similarly fined $200,000 for live contact, and head coach, Urban Meyer, was fined $100,000. The 49ers were even forced to cancel the final week of their OTAs last year, including their mandatory minicamp, along with a $100,000 fine for the team and a $50,000 fine for the coach for a similar violation. Yet, the Bears have yet to be fined and were only forced to cancel one of their OTAs.