In recent years we have seen more and more veteran players skip OTAs (organized team activities). This year the notable names that are not present for OTAs are: QB Lamar Jackson, QB Kyler Murray, QB Baker Mayfield, WR Deebo Samuel, DE Aaron Donald, WR Diontae Johnson, and WR Terry McLaurin.
While contractually voluntary, there are benefits to being present for these offseason activities when it relates to the team’s success.
The main reason that QBs in particular should attend OTAs is to set the tone for the rest of the team. Tannenbaum recalls Bill Parcells declaring the quarterback as the “battlefield commander” of the team.
There is a trickle-down effect of QBs not being there for OTAs, especially when you are regarded as an unquestioned leader of the team. Tannenbaum explains, “It sets the standard that everything we do is important.
“It’s not about Aaron Rodgers or Lamar Jackson not knowing the plays, but it’s more about if they’re there, it is really important”
Former NFL QB Rich Gannon understood this trickle-down effect as well. Gannon says, “Not being there is a real detriment to not only the player, but to the team.”
Rich Gannon credits a lot of his development as a player to the offseason workouts. Gannon says, “In my 17-year career I think I made the most improvement in the spring. There were areas of my game that were identified by the coaching staff, and that was an opportunity to have a hands-on experience”.
While Tannenbaum, Spielman, and Gannon seem to agree that today more than ever players can prepare in the offseason on their own, there can be concerns about how these players are managed when they are away from the building.
“You do worry about the amount of throws he’s doing. Is his arm going to be ready for training camp? Is he going to have issues with a sore elbow or arm?” Gannon explains. “There is a certain amount of work that has to go in to get yourself physically and mentally ready for the season and by not being there you jeopardize yourself and your teammates.”
So why aren’t these star players in attendance for OTAs? Former Vikings GM Rick Spielman explains, “Most of the time if they’re not there it’s either because of a contract-related thing, or sometimes if you are trying to trade the player you don’t want him on the field too much because god forbid, he could get injured, or something freak happened during an OTA. But I think if they are under contract and you gave them a significant contract, the expectations are to be there.”
When asked about the contractual component of offseason workouts, Tannenbaum made note of “minimums” that exist in the NFL CBA:
“Each player shall receive at least the following amounts per day for any workouts or classroom instruction in which he participates pursuant to a Club’s voluntary offseason workout program, provided the player fulfills the Club’s reasonable offseason workout requirements: $235 (2020 League Year), $275 (2021 League Year), $295 (2022– 23 League Years), $315 (2024–25 League Years), $340 (2026–27 League Years), $365 (2028–29 League Years), and $390 (2030 League Year), respectively. Players are required to complete three out of four scheduled workouts, including any scheduled OTAs, per week in order to be paid for any workout the player completes in that week, except that if there are fewer than four (4) scheduled workouts in a week the player will be paid for each workout in which he participates.” (Article 21, Section 3 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, NFLPA).
During his time in Minnesota Spielman implemented bonuses related to offseason workouts to incentivize attendance:
“Part of the workout bonuses during the offseason was that they had to hit X percentage, and if they hit X percentage, they get $100,000, or $200,000 or whatever it is.”
A wealthy veteran player like Aaron Donald would not need this kind of money, but it could matter for a free agent or a rookie.
Despite most players and coaches understanding that the NFL is a business, the cultural impact of players skipping OTAs will be felt going into the season. According to Gannon, “Guys can be resentful, particularly if a guy gets hurt, or a guy comes in and doesn’t play well.”
It will be interesting to see whether these star players skipping OTAs will truly have an impact on the success of their team as a whole heading into the 2022 NFL season.