One of the many, many things the current coronavirus restrictions will interrupt as long as they remain in place is the latter half of the NFL offseason, where teams all gather together for meetings and practices in May and June before congregating for training camp in late July. When it became clear social distancing would stay a reality through the early parts of that process, the NFL told teams they were allowed to hold virtual meetings and practices with their teams, as long as it adhered to the same practice time restrictions they normally would be held to as laid out in the CBA.
On Wednesday, Dianna Russini reported the New Orleans Saints would be passing on virtual meetings completely. The team told their players to stay healthy, take care of their family, and show up ready to go come July.
This is a really interesting decision, and one that I can't imagine many other teams will follow. The early stages of training camp is usually voluntary for veterans, and the benefit is minimal for most of those guys anyway. It's helpful to get players together and familiar with one another, but these early camps are primarily for rookies.
In normal times, rookies have their own dedicated minicamps immediately following the draft and usually show up to the voluntary workouts in June. Getting acclimated to the new environment is crucial for many of these guys. Only the first three or four selections are guaranteed a roster spot. The rest will be battling with fellow fringe players for their keep. Minicamps present them with an opportunity to stand out in the early going, but most importantly, it's their best time to learn the playbook inside and out. NFL playbooks are generally a different beast than a college playbook, and while the level of transition differs from player to player, it remains significant. It's often described by former NFLers as learning an entirely new language.
Now these rookies will be trying to learn that new language basically on their own. I can't imagine New Orleans won't have any contact with the players they draft this weekend between now and July, but there's a big difference between studying the playbook over the computer with your coaches and being on the field with the staff, putting all the new information you're digesting into action. Players have said that the lockout back in 2011 made the adjustment period for first-year guys much more difficult. This situation is much different, but the amount of contact remains significantly limited to standard operations.
Then there's the factor of the workout bonuses. If the Saints are voluntarily canceling workouts that play roles in incentives of players' contracts, are they just going to pay out the money anyway? Such charity isn't the favored practice in the cutthroat NFL, but we live in strange times. It also might be tough for guys to show up in the best shape of their lives with the resources at their disposal during said strange times.
What the Saints are doing is obviously very good from the human side of things. Our reality is scary and difficult most days. Trying to juggle work responsibilities with everything else is hard, as we've all discovered. New Orleans is giving their players a break that few others can enjoy right now. But from the football side of things, it may make restarting everything come summer that much more difficult.