The offseason training for the 2021 NFL season has officially begun.
Some Carolina Panthers players reported to the team’s facility at Bank of America Stadium for the start of voluntary offseason training Monday. An exact number is not known, but not every player was in attendance with many still spread throughout the country.
Panthers players who did report were able to go to the facility and weight room for strength and conditioning training with meetings taking place virtually. That will continue over the next four weeks in Phase 1 that lasts through May 14.
During this time, teams have also been told to “make every effort” to have COVID-19 vaccinations available to players, staff members and their families.
Over the past week, 20 NFL teams’ players have put out statements stating that some or all of their players would not be participating in in-person portions of the voluntary program due to concerns regarding COVID-19 and the general health of players. The Panthers have not been among them.
After the first phase, voluntary training will move to some on-field work. The NFLPA has continued to push for an entirely virtual offseason program, as was in place last year, partly due to data the Player’s Association has collected showing a decrease in injuries last year.
Many players have workout bonuses tied to attending voluntary offseason workouts that will make them more inclined to attend, including Panthers safety Juston Burris, who has a $600,000 workout bonus this year, per Over the Cap. Five other Panthers also have workout bonuses — Teddy Bridgewater, Shaq Thompson, Christian McCaffrey, Matt Paradis and P.J. Walker. Players are being instructed by their agents and the NFLPA to do what is best for them, especially in these types of cases.
“Last year we came to an agreement with the NFL, prioritizing, all players health and safety, and allowing guys to get their workout bonuses and get their per diems virtually in the middle of a pandemic,” NFLPA President J.C. Tretter said Monday. “The pandemic is still going on, and now the league’s put into place a situation where players make the decision, if I want to get the money, I have to put myself at risk.”
The schedule after the first phase includes a gradual increase in on-field work and the only mandatory portion, a minicamp during Phase 3. The NFLPA is not in favor of having that in-person.
▪ Phase 2, May 17 to May 21: Virtual meetings will continue, but on-field drills with coaches can begin with no contact. A rookie mini-camp is also expected around this time.
▪ Phase 3, May 24 to June 18: Teams can hold 10 practices that are full speed, but include no contact. This time frame will also contain a three-day mandatory mini-camp, the only aspect required during this time. Meetings can take place in person or virtually
The NFL informed clubs last week that team employees, not including players, who refuse a COVID-19 vaccination and do not have “bona fide medical or religious ground” will have restricted access within the facility and not be able to work directly with players. Teams will report a count of how many people are vaccinated to the league weekly. Certain restrictions will become more lenient for those who have been vaccinated, creating incentives for coaches and staff to do so.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule shared recently that he had received the COVID-19 vaccine.
Rhule has been among those who have spoken publicly about the importance of having time to work with players at the facility, while also remaining flexible with whatever circumstances are presented.
“Right now, I’m planning to get started next Monday. If I get direction that, ‘Hey, that’s virtual,’ or ‘Hey, that’s canceled.’ or anything like that, I’ll adapt,” Rhule said. “Last year, I spent a lot of time worrying and projecting and trying to figure out what was what, and I realized pretty soon that all that was doing was providing stress. I’m prepared, our staff’s prepared to start next Monday, the 19th, and if something changes it changes, and we’ll adapt from there.”