The NFLPA and OTAs

On May 19, 2019, DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, went on the Sports Junkies podcast and took a stand against on-field activities for which players were not being paid.[1] This includes Organized Team Activities (OTAs), which are entirely voluntary workouts.[2] However, OTAs are the only opportunity players have to run plays in a competitive environment during the offseason before training camp starts.[3] Smith was adamant that, “players should never do anything for free.”[4] The voluntary program allows players to make extra per diem during OTAs, mainly for housing and food, but it still allows players to get paid for their offseason workouts.[5] Veterans have additional opportunities to earn more during OTAs through incentives that reward participation.[6]

The NFLPA then used the COVID-19 pandemic as a leveraging point to launch their assault on OTAs.[7] In 2020, it stated that players did not want to go through the daily testing requirements in place at NFL facilities and that they just felt safer at home.[8] They shifted to a virtual offseason with players working out at home.[9] However, they changed their tune for 2021, saying that OTAs are completely unnecessary, pandemic or not, as evidenced by the previous year’s success without a traditional offseason.[10]

The NFLPA has encouraged veterans and rookies alike to avoid OTAs.[11] It has set its sights on getting rid of the program, but this seems to disadvantage the players they are trying to help. As of 2019, the NFLPA represents 11,174 active and former player members.[12] By getting rid of OTAs or calling for their boycott, the NFLPA is only helping the minority of these players. The stars that have job security are the only ones protected by the move. Players who are fighting for roster spots need as much face time with coaches to give them the best chance to make a good impression and earn their keep. When OTAs are discouraged or the NFLPA moves to get rid of them, they are working to the detriment of the players that need them to earn roster spots.

There are some other major issues with the NFLPA’s position, as staying away from OTAs can put players at a substantial risk of losing wages.[13] In 2021, the NFLPA asked Ja’Wuan James to work out on his own during the offseason, rather than doing so at the Broncos facility.[14] He tore his Achilles tendon, which landed him on the Non-Football Injury list.[15] If the injury had occurred at the Broncos facility, he would have would up on Injured Reserve instead.[16] Being on Injured Reserve would have allowed James to collect the $10 million he was guaranteed for that season.[17] However, since he ended up on the Non-Football Injury list, the Broncos cut him without having to pay him anything.[18] James expressed his displeasure on Twitter, saying that the NFLPA needs to “have [the players’] backs” if it is going to advise them to avoid offseason workouts.[19]

Smith further emphasized that players without contracts, especially rookies, should not step onto the field until they are under contract.[20] He believes that this leaves players at an even greater risk of lost wages if they’re injured.[21] However, the CBA protects players not under contract who participate in OTAs by requiring offseason workout participation agreements.[22] While certain players may lose wages by being injured during an OTA, the required agreements allow eligible players to participate in offseason workouts with a safety net that allows them to get paid in the event they get injured.[23] The process is even different for rookies and draft picks that are participating in OTAs without a contract, as their offseason workout participation agreements generally require teams to negotiate their contracts in good faith, as if they were not injured at all.[24]

The NFLPA has taken a firm stance against OTAs. Every argument that supports their position seems to run contrary to their goal of representing the players. Players who must fight for a roster spot will have fewer opportunities to show themselves off, so the NFLPA is advocating against their interests. Further, the CBA protects players who are injured at team facilities, but has little protection for those injured off-site. It would be in the players’ best interests to promote workouts at team facilities to provide them with the most protection and support possible. Urging players to work out on their own allows injuries to substantially harm players at no risk to the team.


[2] Id.


[4] Supra note 1.

[5] Supra note 3.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.


[13] Supra note 3.

[14] Id.


[16] Supra note 3.

[17] Id.; See also NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), art. 21, § 4, March, 15, 2020.

[18] Supra note 3.


[20] Supra note 1.

[21] Id.

[22] Supra NFL CBA, art. 21, § 9.

[23] Id. at art. 21, § 9, App. Q.


[Photo] Photo by Adrian Curiel on Unsplash

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