The Detroit Lions players became the fourth group, with more expected to follow in the coming days, to announce they will not attend voluntary offseason workouts scheduled to start next week.
“With the voluntary workout period starting shortly and no acceptable resolution to our union’s negotiations with the NFL over comprehensive COVID-19 protocols, we will be exercising our CBA right to not attend voluntary workouts,” a statement on behalf of the Lions players stated. “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 against this offseason.
“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.”
Michigan has seen its COVID-19 cases steadily rising the past two months. Last week, the state reported more than 45,000 cases and 282 deaths. The state on Tuesday added 8,867 new COVID-19 cases and 74 deaths as it continues to lead the nation in new infections and hospitalizations.
The surge spurred Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to recently encourage a two-week suspension of in-person classes for high schools, youth sports and indoor dining.
The Lions joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks players, who previous announced similar decisions. Offseason programs are scheduled to begin Monday and remain voluntary until mandatory minicamp in June.
The players union has been pushing for a fully virtual offseason, mirroring last year’s setup in response to the ongoing pandemic. After players from a fifth team, the New England Patriots, announced most of their players wouldn’t be attending voluntary workouts on Wednesday, the league formalized its offseason schedule for teams.
The first four weeks, starting April 19, will include virtual meetings and no on-field work. Weight rooms at facilities will be open to players, with previously established restrictions on capacity. Additionally, teams will work to make vaccines available to staff, players and families during this period.
Phase 2 runs from May 17-21 and includes on-field, non-contact drills. That transitions to Phase 3, a four-week period that consists of 10 non-contact OTA practices and mandatory minicamp.
Any player who opts to report to a team facility will be subject to daily COVID testing. Also, staff members who work directly with players are being required by the league to get vaccinated or have in-person access significantly limited.
Players will not be required get vaccinated, but are being strongly encouraged.
“It’s a personal choice, but we’ll do everything we can to encourage it,” Lions president Rod Wood said two weeks ago.
Lions coach Dan Campbell, asked earlier this month about the challenges this offseason could present as a first-year coach trying to install new systems, said there wouldn’t be any excuses.
“Here’s the beauty of it; everybody in the league has to fall under the same rules,” Campbell said. “That’s the bright side to all of this, we’re all kind of the same in that regard.
“…I’m not that concerned about it, honestly,” Campbell said. “If there was a concern, it would be strength and conditioning, that part of it, and your guys working together a little bit. But if that’s the case, you give them a plan and you keep tabs on them and make sure they’re staying on top of what they need to do. But listen, we’re not going to use that as an excuse for us. If we can’t start until training camp, then you know what, we’ll be ready to go and we’ll hit the ground running and we’ll get what we need to get out of it and adapt as fast as possible.”