Mullin: NFL's 'hidden season' in full swing
By John Mullin
The NFL offseason may be in turmoil and the pre- and regular seasons may still be in for some heavy weather, but the NFL’s “hidden season” is in full cycle as it always is this time of year.
Call it the “hidden” season because it’s the part of the NFL year that few normally see and even fewer really appreciate. It’s sometimes convenient to dismiss players as only working 16 Sundays (plus the odd Monday or Thursday) a year but this is the time of year when players sometimes determine whether they’ll actually have jobs on those 16 game days.
Gregg Rosenthal at ProFootballTalk.com mentions Matt Forte and Greg Olsen getting their work in at Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami along with a number of other NFL’ers. Olsen checks in with Twitter reports as well (@gregolsen82).
The lockout is contributing to a long-standing offseason tradition among NFL players, and not just Bears players. And it wasn’t always just offseason.
The current strength and conditioning staff and facilities are substantially improved at the Halas Hall that Michael McCaskey and the organization designed and opened in 1997. But a number of players, more now with Halas closed to them pending the April 6 hearing on an injunction to end the lockout, are doing their work at a number of facilities around the area and around the country.
Friends working out at Poliquin Performance Center in Northfield share machines with Robbie Gould (“Man, Robbie Gould is strong!” was one observation this morning), Roberto Garza (“People have no idea how huge and strong these guys really are” was another report) and others are spending workout time at EFT Sports Performance and TCBOOST in Northbrook and other facilities specializing in high-intensity trainings.
There’s a funny historical aside to all this, however.
Players have always used these facilities for offseason and sometimes in-season extra work. It’s less the case now but players at one time were so unhappy with some of the strength and fitness directives coming from a (now-gone) strength coach that they covertly went to private trainers and facilities while at the same time complying with what the team was requiring. And they were adamant: Keep it a secret.
That’s changed in recent years with Rusty Jones, the director of physical development, athletic trainer Tim Bream and some very sophisticated technologies for rehab as well as basic programs.
And now they at least don’t have to keep it a secret.
In a related article, brandt did a nice breakdown of offseason NFL workout's and hat players got paid for them:
Offseason workout lockout
Programs were all begin by today Andrew Brandt
Today would be the day on the NFL calendar – in a normal year devoid of the Courtroom football – where the last of the NFL teams would be starting their offseason workout programs at their facilities. It is usally the time of year where the most important coaches on the 20-man NFL coaching staffs are the strength and conditioning coaches. Those three men become the conduit for the team to the 50-70 players that join the program.
Now players are scattered working out on their own or in groups, with liability for any injury suffered their own. Were players to suffer season-ending injuries during this lockout, teams could place the player on the Non-Football Injured (NFI) list with no obligation to pay the player (or pay him any amount between zero and the salary he was supposed to make). These are risky times for NFL players outside of their normal routine of team workout programs.
Here are answers to the questions I receive most about the team workout programs.
Are they mandatory?
No, but players are “encouraged” to attend. Average and marginal players know they must attend to have any shot of making the roster. For star, attendance can be an issue (see below) but workout bonuses provide incentives to attend.
Many teams now have language in their contracts for players to attend the program “if invited to attend.” This clause may be relevant, for instance, if a team has a player they may release in the offseason and don’t want liability for injury suffered during the program.
It is rare for a team to “disinvite” a player from the program; I never did.
How long are these programs?
The maximum length is fourteen weeks. Some are as little as ten weeks.
In the NFL’s proposal to the NFLPA on March 11th, the maximum length of these programs was no longer than 10 weeks. This is one of the player safety issues that the owners will give.
A “week” consists of four days: two days on strength exercises in the weight room and two days on movement and speed exercises on the practice fields or indoor facility. Each player has a detailed file that logs his progress and lists his goals.
What are players paid for these workouts?
Players participating in the program received a per diem of $130 a day in 2010. If there are workouts in 2011, the per diem is $145 per day.
With four workouts a week, the maximum per diem for the week was $520 in 2010. Thus, for a player who participated in every workout in 2010 in a fourteen-week program, he would have received a gross amount of $7280.
For many players, these amounts are trifling. But for many participating – some for whom this is their only time in the NFL – these earnings need to last.
Was it hard to get players to show up for workouts in Green Bay?
Yes. As I heard so often from players and agents, Green Bay is not "geographically desirable" in the offseason. When Mike McCarthy arrived in 2006 with the mantra “accountability and availability,” I set out to change our culture through our contracts.
In every veteran contract from that point forward, I separated a meaningful amount from the player’s salary and directed it to participation in 85% of our program. The amounts ranged from a few thousand for lesser players to $500,000 for some of our top players.
Negotiating these clauses was challenging, especially for veterans used to warmer climates. All agents would ask the same question: “Andrew, can’t he work out with his “guy” in and he’ll send you weekly reports?” The answer was “I appreciate you asking, but no.”
I made the bonuses as meaningful as possible, but for some it was too hard to overcome their preference for training elsewhere. Players like Charles Woodson, Al Harris, Donald Driver and Ryan Pickett were content to forego those bonuses to spend their offseason elsewhere (Brett Favre didn’t have one, as his contract was negotiated in 2001).
What will happen to those workout clauses this year?
Good question. Many players now have hundreds of thousands at risk, up to $750,000 for Jets’ tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
Many have speculated that this money is lost due to the lockout. But not necessarily, depending on the wording of the contract.
If the contract states, as most do, that "the Player receives the bonus if he participates in 85% of available workouts”, he could still claim his bonus if, for instance, the NFL opens for business and the team has a shortened workout program. Ferguson, for instance, could claim the bonus if, say, the workout program were two weeks (8 workouts) and he showed up for seven of them, meaning he would receive over $100,000 per workout.
If, however, the contract requires a set number of workouts to be performed, that would be a harder case to make.
There will be questions about interpretation of these bonuses that could affect hundreds of thousands of dollars. There will also be an argument that NFL teams will owe all workout bonuses if the preliminary injunction is granted and the lockout is ruled illegal.
This is an area to watch when the NFL resumes business, which it will. Just don’t ask me when…
It still fits because to me (a loyal Sox fan) they are the good guys and the teams primary colors are black and silver/white.