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2021 NFL season: Rundown of teams opting out of voluntary OTAs

(AP Photo / Ted S. Warren)

After a heavily virtual offseason in 2020, teams across the NFL are doing their best to ensure that the same thing happens in 2021.

Each year, as the league’s 32 franchises prepare for the NFL Draft, players on each of those teams generally prepare themselves for voluntary organized team activities, or OTAs.

Many players have skipped OTAs in the past for a variety of reasons, mainly due to the fact that their participation is not required, per the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA).

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In 2020, however, those OTAs became a bigger issue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With protocols being sorted out and the general uncertainty that was evident throughout the early stretch of the pandemic, most parts of the NFL offseason were shifted to a virtual setting.

A year later, the COVID-19 pandemic still rages on, and players across the league have expressed their concerns about their health and safety as they prepare for the 2021 NFL season.

So, as those players around the country started to think about the idea of voluntary OTAs, many decided that it would be in their best interests to remain remote and opt out of the voluntary program in 2021.

It all started with one singular statement from a team on April 13, which was released through the NFLPA. Then, the NFLPA’s Twitter account became a high-traffic area for players, teams, and reporters from around the country, as everyone waited for the next domino to drop ahead of the 2021 season.

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That list quickly hit double digits in the span of a few days, with no clear signs of stopping, as well.

Here’s the rundown of the teams that have decided to opt out of OTAs in some fashion, going in chronological order from first to most recent.

  • Denver Broncos

On April 13, the Denver Broncos became the first team to make an announcement related to OTAs, saying that they would “be exercising our right to not participate in voluntary offseason workouts.”

“COVID-19 remains a serious threat to our families and our communities, and it makes no sense for us as players to put ourselves at risk during this dead period,” Broncos players said in a statement through the NFLPA.

“Positivity rates in our city are higher than they were at this time last year and we know players have been infected at club facilities in recent weeks.”

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The Broncos wrote that they “hope players across the NFL work with our union as we did to get all of the facts so every player can make an informed decision.”

  • Seattle Seahawks

Shortly after the Broncos put out their statement, the Seattle Seahawks followed suit, saying they, “as a team, have decided to make a decision that is uncomfortable but necessary.”

“Although we made it through the entire NFL season, we are also left with the uncomfortable experiences it took for each of us to make it through. Therefore, as voluntary in-person off-season workouts stumble upon us, we are left with yet another decision,” the team wrote in a statement through the NFLPA.

“For the protection of everyone’s safety, we the Seattle Seahawks are deciding to exercise our CBA right to not participate in voluntary in-person workouts.”

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The last of three teams to put out a statement through the NFLPA on April 13, the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers also announced their intention to skip voluntary offseason workouts.

“We know that our union worked to negotiate safety protocols, but in light of the ongoing pandemic, we are choosing to take a stand with other players across the league and exercise our right to not participate in the voluntary offseason program,” the team’s players wrote.

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“We had a fully virtual offseason last year and we held each other accountable to do the work it took to win and we plan to do that again.”

  • Detroit Lions

Continuing the trend on April 14, Detroit Lions players released a statement of their own through the NFLPA, saying they would be “exercising our CBA right to not attend voluntary workouts.”

“We know our home state of Michigan continues to get hit hard by the pandemic and based on the continuing guidance of medical experts, it is in everyone’s best interest to play it safe again this offseason,” the team wrote. “Players on our team are proud to support other players across the league in making an informed decision about their health and safety, guided by the facts and support from our union.”

  • New England Patriots

While they were the second team to speak out on April 14, the New England Patriots switched things up in comparison to other teams’ statements related to voluntary workouts, mentioning a majority instead of the totality.

Rather than saying the entire team would be skipping voluntary workouts like the four that came before, the franchise said that “many of us at the New England Patriots will be exercising our right to not attend voluntary workouts this offseason.”

“The NFL has yet to agree to the full details of a plan for players despite the fact we are a few short days away from the start of voluntary workouts,” the Patriots wrote in their statement through the NFLPA. “The threat of COVID-19 is still serious in our community and across the country, and we think it is safer for everyone if we choose to workout on our own.”

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While the team did say many of its players would not attend the workouts, the statement did mention that “some players will need to go for various reasons.”

  • Chicago Bears

On April 15, the Chicago Bears joined what was a list of five other teams at that point, citing their ability for “the majority of our locker room” to exercise their right to “not participate in in-person voluntary workouts in order to stay as safe as possible.”

The statement followed a similar tone to that of the Patriots, stating that many, but not all, players would be utilizing that right.

“COVID-19 remains a risk both to our team, our families and to our fellow NFL players,” the Bears wrote, according to their statement through the NFLPA. “We also saw the health and safety benefits of a fully virtual offseason, as injuries across the NFL were down last year. Players remain unclear about the protocols and protections, and rules remain inconsistent despite the last minute communication by the NFL yesterday.

  • Cleveland Browns

Returning to the norm from the first few days’ worth of decisions, Cleveland Browns players decided that, as a whole, they would be skipping voluntary workouts in 2021.

In their NFLPA statement, the players said they “agree that a virtual offseason, like we had last year, is the best decision for everyone in our league.”

“We stand in solidarity with players from other clubs by exercising our CBA right to not attend in-person voluntary workouts this offseason,” the statement said.

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“We are professionals who train year-round, wherever we spend our offseason. As we proved last year, we will be ready to compete this upcoming season.

  • New York Giants

The third team to put out a statement through the NFLPA on April 15, the New York Giants confirmed that “players on our team are exercising our CBA right to not attend in-person voluntary workouts.”

“Our team is a strong, unified brotherhood of professionals who love the game of football and work year-round to perfect our craft,” the team’s players wrote. “We also have to make the best decisions to protect our health and safety.”

  • Las Vegas Raiders

Wrapping up the action on April 15, the Las Vegas Raiders solidified their stance by saying “players from our team will not participate in a voluntary in-person workout program.”

Similar to multiple other teams, however, the team mentioned the fact that some players have reasons away from the pandemic for their participation in voluntary OTAs.

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“We respect those players on our team and across the NFL who have contractual incentives linked to their participation in the program,” the players wrote. “But we stand in solidarity with our fellow players who are making the best decision on behalf of themselves and their families.”

  • Pittsburgh Steelers

On April 16, the Pittsburgh Steelers put out a strong statement through the NFLPA, saying it “makes no sense for us to risk infection or injury in the spring if we don’t have to,” and explaining that “the protections we had in place last year are not fully in place now and remain unclear.”

“We should not be made to compromise our health and safety,” Steelers players wrote.

“With the current pandemic still affecting our communities and country, and the lack of clear protocols and protections regarding returning to work at full capacity, the players of the Pittsburgh Steelers have decided to exercise our right to not participate in voluntary in-person activities.”

  • Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons joined the fray on April 16, saying that “many of our players will decide to exercise their right to not attend the voluntary offseason program.”

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Straying from the norm, however, the team openly admitted to the fact that the statement did not represent everyone on the team.

“While our team is not unanimous, we respect the decisions of every player across the league and will remain professional in our approach to the game,” the Falcons said in their statement through the NFLPA.

  • Los Angeles Chargers

Continuing the “many, but not all” trend, the Los Angeles Chargers said that some of the team’s players would not be attending in-person offseason workouts in 2021.

“We had a virtual offseason last year that protected us and our families from a pandemic, but also showed beneficial to our overall health and safety,” the Chargers wrote in their NFLPA statement.

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“NFL players are professionals who work to perfect our craft throughout the year regardless of where we are, and we respect every player’s decision to do what is best for him and his family.”

  • New York Jets

The New York Jets continued the familiar tone from the statements throughout the week, saying many of the franchise’s players would not be present for in-person voluntary workouts.

“We respect that every player has a right to make a decision about what is best for him and his family, and we stand in solidarity with other players across the NFL who are making informed choices about this offseason,” the team’s players wrote.

  • Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins went with a statistical approach with their statement through the NFLPA, as players announced that they would be exercising their right to opt out of voluntary OTAs.

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“Our team came together to discuss the current situation regarding COVID-19 and the lack of clear and timely protocols put into place by the NFL,” the team’s statement read. “The most significant fact from that discussion was the health and safety benefits of a fully virtual offseason. Last year, league-wide injury data showed players experienced a 23% reduction in missed time.”

“For these reasons, the Miami Dolphins stand in solidarity with players across the league who are making informed decisions to exercise their right to not attend voluntary in-person workouts this offseason.”

  • Los Angeles Rams

Rounding out the April 16 group, the Los Angeles Rams made their intentions clear in a lengthy statement through the NFLPA, announcing that they would also be sticking with a remote experience during OTAs.

“While we all feel optimism that the pandemic can be beaten, we are still in the fight and believe it is unnecessary at this time for in-person workouts, with our players currently around the country working to safely improve their game on their own,” the statement read.

  • San Francisco 49ers

The second consecutive NFC West team to opt out, the San Francisco 49ers said in their statement that 2020’s “virtual offseason kept us safe in an uncertain environment while allowing us to work together as a team.”

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“The fight against COVID-19 is still ongoing and case numbers are still concerning,” the 49ers’ players wrote. “We are apprehensive about taking avoidable risks in the spring as we prepare to perform at the highest level in the fall.”

“Given these considerations, many in our locker room have chosen not to attend some or all phases of the voluntary in-person workouts.”

  • New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints will be working with a new starting quarterback in 2021, but that quarterback won’t be working in-person when it comes to voluntary OTAs.

Per the team’s statement, the franchise’s players “came together as a team and we will not be attending in-person voluntary workouts.”

“We know the importance of preparation in the offseason and as professionals,” the statement read. “We are always preparing our minds and bodies to play the game we love.”

  • Baltimore Ravens

In one of the shorter statements from across the league, the Baltimore Ravens rounded out the bunch that announced on April 17 that they would be staying remote for voluntary OTAs in 2021.

“Our team leaders have discussed with each other, with our teammates and with the NFLPA, and in solidarity with the other members of our union across the league, we have decided to exercise our CBA right not to attend in-person voluntary offseason workouts,” players said in a statement through the NFLPA.

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  • Philadelphia Eagles

The lone team to put out an announcement on April 18, the Philadelphia Eagles said that “our players will not be attending in-person voluntary workouts.”

“We know that every player has a decision that is best for him,” the team’s players wrote. “But to stand in solidarity with the brotherhood of players across the NFL, we have decided to come together on this choice.”

  • Minnesota Vikings

On April 19, the Minnesota Vikings became the 20th of the league’s 32 teams to put out a statement through the NFLPA, announcing that many of the franchise’s players would be opting out of voluntary workouts in 2021.

“Given the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and the inadequate safety procedures recommended by the NFL, this is the safest path forward for us and our families,” the team’s players wrote.

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“We understand that some players will go into the facility for different reasons, but feel strongly, as a unit, about putting our overall health and safety first.”

  • Tennessee Titans

On April 20, the Tennessee Titans increased the league’s number to 21 as players announced their intentions to not attend in-person voluntary workouts.

“We have come together as a team and have had several conversations about what is best for the players in our locker room,” players wrote in their statement through the NFLPA. “Based on the injury data from the previous year, along with the facts and recommendation provided by our union, we are in solidarity with other players across the NFL who will exercise their right to not attend in-person voluntary workouts.”

“We understand that some players will need to be at our facility for different reasons during this time and we respect the right of every player afforded to us in our CBA.”

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