Seattle Seahawks players said in a statement released Tuesday through the NFL Players Association that they will not attend voluntary in-person workouts this offseason due to continuing concerns about COVID-19.
The offseason program is scheduled to begin Monday.
“For the protection of everyone’s safety, we the Seattle Seahawks are deciding to exercise our CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) right to not participate in voluntary in-person workouts,’’ the statement read. “While many states in this country are still seeing rising COVID-19 numbers, we believe that a virtual offseason is best for everyone’s protection. Our hope is that we will see a positive shift in the COVID-19 data that will allow for a safe return for players when mandatory workouts are set to begin.’’
NFL teams will start Phase One of the three-phase offseason program Monday. Phase One consists of strength and conditioning and meetings. Phases Two and Three can include some on-field work (some of which is officially referred to as Offseason Training Activities, or OTAs), building up to a mandatory minicamp in June, which includes three on-field practices.
The Seahawks joined the Denver Broncos in releasing statements saying they do not want to take part in any in-person work during the voluntary portion of the offseason program and instead want to conduct it virtually, as was done in 2020. Late Tuesday afternoon, Tampa Bay released a similar statement.
Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett, who is the team’s player representative to the NFLPA, reiterated that stance when he spoke to media members Tuesday afternoon via Zoom.
“I think that last year we did a virtual offseason, nobody expected it to happen, and it worked out perfectly fine,” Lockett said. ” … We also want to do a virtual (offseason) this year.”
Lockett said the vote came about by players “talking to each other, having a meeting. Being able to have each player reach out to their positions to be able to try to get a vote of what everybody felt and how everybody felt if they were safe about going back or not.”
Lockett said before last season he considered opting out due to concerns over COVID-19.
Asked if he would feel safe going back to the team facility, Lockett said, “I mean, honestly, I don’t feel safe anywhere. I don’t feel safe even in my house.”
The NFL has not set the exact schedule for offseason program this year other than to say that Phase One would begin Monday, with teams able to welcome players to their facilities.
Players, in fact, already have been allowed into team facilities during the offseason, with one estimate that roughly 400 around the league have been going.
But a report from the NFL Network on Tuesday said the latest proposal from the league was to start with two weeks of virtual work and then go in-person. The NFLPA has consistently said it wants everything done virtually.
All of the offseason program was done last year virtually. But the league recently said it feels that team facilities are among the safest places players can be, one reason it is pushing for in-person work.
The Seahawks’ statement came shortly after the NFLPA had released a statement of its own recommending all players throughout the league to not attend voluntary workouts. The NFLPA statement, reiterating that the offseason program was held virtually last year, said the union believes doing so again will give the league the best chance of completing a full 2021 season.
The Seahawks were the only team in the NFL not to have a player test positive for COVID-19 during the season.
The statement of the players alluded to players having had to make “very tough’’ decisions whether to play last season.
“With very little time, many NFL players chose to put our families and health at risk by participating in the NFL season while others respectfully opted out,’’ the statement read. “Although we made it though the entire NFL season, we are also left with the uncomfortable experiences it took for each of us to make it through.”
The NFL on Tuesday also released a memo to all teams that any team employee who refuses a COVID-19 vaccination without “bona fide medical or religious ground” will be barred from Tier 1 or Tier 2 status, and thus have restricted access within the team facility and not be able to work directly with players, according to a report from Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network.
Lockett said he agreed with the stance of the union that the quality of play last season was not impacted by not having on-field workouts during the offseason program.
“When we went back into (training) camp, things were amazing,” Lockett said. “Like everybody was flying around like you would have thought, ‘Yeah, we never missed a practice, we never missed the OTAs.’ And that’s the beauty of it, that we were able to see that it’s all mental. And so for us when we went through that virtual experience, like we had to be on our P’s and Q’s because we wanted to make sure that we was all great. Well, we went back out there, and I think the NFL season just kind of showed that we were still on it.”
If players do not attend the offseason program in person, they can still work out on their own or with other groups of players. But injuries suffered in such workouts would not be covered by salary guarantees, unlike injuries suffered during any official team activity.