The NFL announced the official dates for rookie minicamp and offseason workouts on Thursday, but what the remainder of the spring will look like in reality for the Ravens and the other 31 teams remains to be seen.
With the NFL Players Association being outspoken in recommending its members not attend voluntary in-person activities and players from multiple teams — including the Ravens — publicly stating their intentions not to take part, the league is facing a second straight unusual offseason even with vaccinations widely available to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. While the union has cited the overall success of the 2020 season as reason for maintaining an all-virtual offseason program moving forward, the recent season-ending Achilles tendon injury suffered by Denver offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James highlights the dangers of that position with the collective bargaining agreement not requiring teams to pay players who are injured away from the team facility. Knowing even those who are constantly at the team facility will also work out elsewhere in the offseason, organizations have typically avoided going after players’ money, which was the case when former Raven Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles in Arizona in 2012. However, a harder and louder stance from the union against voluntary workouts could prompt teams to adjust that position, putting players at greater financial risk.
Though these spring workouts are voluntary by definition of the CBA, coaching staffs have long expected players to attend at least semi-regularly with very few exceptions. The CBA does allow for a mandatory three-day minicamp for veteran players, which takes place during the final phase of the offseason.
Even before taking into account the financial risk of a player sustaining an injury away from the team facility, it’s easier said than done for the union to direct veterans on the roster bubble and young players trying to establish themselves in the NFL not to attend spring workouts. The Ravens are planning to hold their rookie minicamp in Owings Mills next weekend.
The opening phase of the nine-week offseason workout program officially began April 19 and has been expanded from the usual two weeks to four weeks consisting of only conditioning, strength training, physical rehabilitation, and virtual meanings. Traditionally, most young players and many notable veterans would be present for the first day, but what this year’s attendance has looked like remains unclear with head coach John Harbaugh confirming last month only that “non-rehab guys” had already been in the building for the start of the program.
“Since I’ve been in the league, in terms of the controversy about the whole thing, it’s been voluntary,” Harbaugh said on April 19. “We coach every guy that wants to be here. Every [player] that decides to show up, we’ll coach, and that’s what we’ll do. I’m looking forward to it, and when they get here, we’ll be coaching them. That’s kind of how it works out.
“Guys make their choices, and the guys who are here, we’re coaching them up.”
The second phase of the offseason schedule was shortened this year from the usual three weeks to one week and will begin later this month. On-field workouts including individual player drills and instruction as well as team practices conducted on a “separate” basis are permitted, but no live contact or team offense against team defense drills are allowed. All drills must be conducted at an “acceptable walk-through pace” comparable to Pro Bowl practices.
The third phase of the offseason program covers the final four weeks with clubs permitted to hold in-person meetings and classroom instruction subject to COVID-19 testing, tracking, and other protocols. During this time, teams may conduct 10 days of organized team practice activity, or OTAs. No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permitted.
None of these practices are open to the public, but the NFL has traditionally required clubs to open at least one of every three OTA days to local reporters. All three days of the mandatory minicamp must be open to local media.
Each club may conduct a rookie football development program for a period of seven weeks, which may begin on May 17. During this period, no activities may be conducted on weekends except one post-draft rookie minicamp, which may be scheduled for either the first or second weekend after the draft.
Below is the Ravens’ 2021 offseason workout schedule that was released Thursday by the NFL:
Rookie minicamp: May 14-16
OTA offseason workouts: May 25-27, June 2-4, June 7-8, June 10-11
Mandatory minicamp: June 15-17