NFLPA president and Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter believes the offseason training changes the NFL was forced to make due to COVID-19 have made the game better, and he wants to get rid of them for good.
In an essay published Thursday on the NFLPA website titled “How 2020 Will Shape Future NFL Seasons,” Tretter called for the permanent elimination of offseason practices, minicamps, and offseason team activities. The NFL’s offseason program was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and Tretter doesn’t want it to come back.
“There is no reason for us to ever return to the previous offseason program,” Tretter wrote.
Increased player safety, increased quality of play
Teams were required to conduct all their offseason activities virtually due to the pandemic, but Tretter doesn’t believe that any team has suffered because of that change. In fact, he thinks that going virtual has shown that the previous offseason program was mostly useless.
We are the only major sports league with an offseason program. The most physically demanding sport is the only league that brings their players back for extra practices outside of the season. The argument in favor of these offseason practices is based on the assumption that players need reps during OTAs to develop and learn while teams need the practices to gel. Yet, the lack of OTAs this year demonstrated that those theories aren’t substantiated. New and first-year head coaches had success. Newly assembled teams had success. Rookies stepped in and played at a high level all across the league.
Even though there was a concern that no offseason practices, fewer training camp practices, and no preseason games would lead to a lower level of play throughout the league, Tretter believes that the “collective level of play across the league has actually never been higher.” He attributes this to the thoughtful training changes implemented by the NFL and NFLPA, which helped protect players’ bodies.
I believe the changes implemented this season have demonstrated that we can put an entertaining product out on the field while further reducing wear and tear on our players’ bodies. Sloppy play would usually be evident with low-scoring games, a high number of penalties and more missed tackles – all things that have historically been attributed to insufficient practice time to hone our fundamentals. But we have seen the exact opposite this year, with points per game at an all-time high, a decreased number of penalties and even fewer missed tackles compared to last year.
To prepare for this season, we relied on experts from both inside and outside the league to help develop a training camp that put a larger emphasis on the health and safety of our players. It led to a longer acclimation period before the pads came on and a gradual ramp-up of practice time to allow players to steadily load their tissue and muscles. This program increased the number of days off, decreased the time on the field and reduced the number of padded practices.
Tretter also makes an important point about why players were still so prepared despite having none of the traditional offseason practices: they’re professionals. It’s their job to be prepared, to stay in shape and to study and understand the playbook. Playing football at the highest level on the planet is their career and they take it seriously.
Tretter is ready for the challenge of changing the NFL
Tretter is obviously serious about making these offseason practice changes permanent. He knows that the NFL is famously resistant to change, but in his essay he sounds like he’s ready to challenge the NFL to keep improving.
While it’s easy to be fearful of introducing change, the NFL has flourished time and time again when steps were taken to evolve the game. Football is at its best when we have healthy players playing at their best. To make that a reality, we will continue to challenge preconceived notions about how football must be run in order to optimize player health. When we hopefully complete the current season, we will have to take a hard look at what forced and temporary changes should be made permanent.
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