Normally NFL players would be booking flights to their teams’ cities to participate in Organized Team Activities but this year the chances of any offseason work being done by players seems unlikely because of the Coronavirus outbreak. The league already announced last week that OTAs would be indefinitely delayed.
“Based on the most recent guidance provided by leading health officials, and in consultation with the NFLPA and both our and the union’s medical advisors, we believe this is the appropriate way to protect the health of our players, staff, and our communities,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We will continue to make decisions based on the best advice from medical and public health experts and will be prepared to make further modifications as needed.”
Ravens president Dick Cass told the Ravens’ website he isn’t expecting OTAs. He said: “I just don’t think the OTAs are going to happen at all … I hope I’m wrong. I’m hoping we can get some players in [the facility] in June, but I’m sort of doubtful of that.”
If that’s the case, the Minnesota Vikings will face some particular challenges because of the sheer amount of roster turnover and inexperienced players who will have to take on roles in 2020 (assuming, optimistically, that next season starts on time).
This offseason the Vikings have seen their top receiver, three starting corners, starting defensive end and right guard exit. With 12 draft picks and little cap space, some of those spots are likely to be occupied by rookies or players who are looking at significant role increases. The rest will be covered by free agents.
Without the OTA or minicamp experience, jumping right into training camp will be difficult.
“If there’s no OTAs you are going to see a lot of rookies that don’t play very much at all this year,” former Viking offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said on the Purple Daily show. “If you remember during the lockout where there was no OTAs and the rookie class came in, they had to just show up to camp. At camp time there’s no more baby sitting, there’s no ‘how do we help you get to where you need to go,’ it’s time to win football games. For a rookie that’s damn near impossible to try to and digest and pick a playbook up in six weeks. I think it’s really going to affect the rookie class.”
Normally players are drafted and immediately participate in rookie minicamp to get them up to speed with the team’s scheme and then they participate in three three-day OTA sessions — which took place May 21-23, May 28-30 and June 3-6 last season along with mandatory minicamp on June 11-13.
In particular rookie offensive linemen face an uphill battle because of the large jump from college to the NFL in technique and knowledge of the game that is required.
“These college football programs hold up a card of Barstool Big Cat and that means they’re going to run whatever play, in the NFL you have complex play calls, you’ve got checks, you’ve got check-with-me’s, you’ve got to read defenses and by the way the guy across from you is an All-Pro who’s going to try and kick your teeth in every play,” Sirles said. “You put pieces together during OTAs.”
Listen to the entire interview with Sirles starting at the 30:00 mark below…
Considering other major sports are looking at similar dates with hopes of getting back into action, it remains possible that the league could still get back on track but the longer the shutdown of businesses and large gatherings goes around the country, the harder it is to see workouts happening.
It isn’t just rookies who could be impacted but players entering their first full offseason as an NFL player.
“If you are a free agent and you come in from another team, OTAs is really your first glimpse at your coach, at your new teammates, at the new playbook, the culture, a little bit of everything,” Sirles said. “It kind of works as a buffer. The first phase of OTAs is just working out. You come in, you get your lift in and you start to learn teammates and start to learn and then you go to Phase 2 where you get an hour on the field and you learn the playbook. The rookies show up in Phase 2 and that’s where you’re starting to build your team. You’re starting to see who your leaders are.”
One thing the Vikings could have going for them if OTAs are canceled is that returning players will come back to the same scheme on offense — a rarity during the Mike Zimmer regime. Offensive adviser Gary Kubiak was given the offensive coordinator position when Kevin Stefanski left to take the head coaching job in Cleveland.