Who wouldn’t love a week off from work? NFL players are not that different from the average person in that respect, especially when it comes to offseason workouts. Over the past few years, the Green Bay Packers have made a habit of letting veteran players leave town during the week of mandatory minicamp, and it has become both a tradition and an appreciated perk for players who have been in the league a while.
That appreciation is not lost on head coach Mike McCarthy, who instituted the policy in its current form back in 2016. He spoke with Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer last week about the decision to give veterans the week off, noting that the veterans love having that extra time to work out on their own: “When the majority of your group makes a concerted effort to single you out to tell you how much they’re appreciative of the extra week, that in itself is a reward as a head coach.”
Ultimately, everything McCarthy does in the offseason is driven by the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Similarly, some Packers players approach the offseason the same way. In the case of fifth-year safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, OTAs were well and truly voluntary because his contract (a team option) includes no workout bonus provisions. With no financial incentive to be in Green Bay, he instead took that time out to be with his family, in large part because of the death of his godmother.
When it came time for minicamp, Clinton-Dix was in uniform because he does not have enough NFL experience to qualify as one of the excused veterans. Surely, the coaching staff scheduled his snaps in minicamp to ensure that he was maximizing his time on the field.
However, McCarthy and his staff adjust the snap breakdowns throughout OTAs as well, knowing that the veterans will not be in attendance for minicamp. McCarthy alluded to the fact that those veterans get more snaps in team periods in those OTA practices than they otherwise would: “I’m cognizant of what I’m doing ... we’re clearly accommodating that they’re not going to be at minicamp.” Thus, if you were in attendance during an open OTA practice and saw more of Aaron Rodgers than you had expected coming in, there’s a clear reason for it.
Meanwhile, knowing that the veterans will be gone changes the approach to minicamp entirely. Breer calls this point out among McCarthy’s comments, noting that the Packers’ minicamp is “tailored specifically to development” for the younger players on the roster. It’s clear that this approach was McCarthy’s adjustment to the terms of the current CBA and its limits on practice time, something that McCarthy seems to bring up in some fashion in just about every press conference he holds. And the success of the approach can be debated, as the Packers went through rough patches in each of the last two seasons after injuries struck key veterans on the roster and forced young players into the lineup.
In 2016, Green Bay started 4-2 but lost four straight before Rodgers’ famous “run the table” comments. Last year the most notable injury was to Rodgers himself, as Brett Hundley was unable to take a leap forward like most Packers fans hoped.
This year, fans will hope that injuries to veterans will be few and far between, but they are inevitable in this sport. But for the past few years, and over the last two months, McCarthy has done everything he can to schedule his spring practices in a way that gives those young replacements the best chance to succeed when the regular season rolls around.