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NFLPA president JC Tretter criticizes NFL’s current plans to begin 2020 season

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It looks like football could be headed for similar labor strife to that of other major sports as the start date for training camps approaches.

Los Angeles Rams v Cleveland Browns Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Although NFL teams are supposed to be opening up team facilities for training camps in about three weeks, the NFL Players Association is becoming more and more vocal about its displeasure with the league’s plans to begin the 2020 season. Leading the charge for the NFLPA is its president, former Green Bay Packers center and current Cleveland Brown JC Tretter.

In a post he published on the NFLPA’s website, Tretter spoke strongly and harshly about the league’s plans to open up for the 2020 season. In particular, Tretter and the union have taken issue with the league’s training camp schedule and the plans to still hold two preseason games for each team. He begins the meat of his statement as follows:

Our normal return date for training camp is quickly approaching and we are still far from back to “normal.” Our main concern is player safety, both in regard to preventing the virus’ transmission as well as preventing injuries after an extended and historically unique layoff.

Tretter sets the stage here for his objections to the NFL’s current course of action on two fronts: first, the continued spread of COVID-19, and secondly the injury prevalence after an extended period off. Tretter later mentions the 2011 lockout, which cost teams their entire offseason workout programs and ended just before training camp. That year, teams saw a significant increase in player injuries — he quotes a 25% overall uptick.

Tretter then takes aim at the league for not following the recommendations of a committee that the NFL and the players union constructed to advise on the best way to start the 2020 season:

As a preventative measure during the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFLPA and NFL formed a Joint Committee of doctors, trainers and strength coaches to develop protocols designed to bring players up to full speed in a healthy way when they return. The NFL initially accepted and implemented the Joint Committee’s suggestions, including items like no joint practices and no fans at training camp. However, the NFL was unwilling to follow the Joint Committee’s recommendation of a 48-day training camp schedule.

Holding a 48-day training camp would require camps to start on July 19 in order to reach the 48-day mark on the normal cut-down day, which this year is Saturday, Sept. 5 (the Saturday of the weekend prior to the start of the regular season). So far, the league continues to plan for training camps to begin fully on July 28. The NFL has also voted to cancel the first and final weeks of the preseason, giving players an extra week to prepare before the first exhibition games; however, Tretter and the NFLPA are unhappy with that decision as well.

On Friday, the NFLPA Board of Player Representatives — consisting of one player from each team — unanimously voted to support the cancellation of the entire preseason. Tretter states that the NFL provided no medical reasons for holding any preseason games, relying instead on two reasons for doing so: evaluating rosters and testing out COVID-related protocols on gameday. The NFLPA resolution does not quite match Tretter’s description of the first argument, instead stating that the league said the games “were ‘necessary’ to prepare players for the season.”

Either way, the players appear united in their belief that the preseason is not “necessary” (in the NFL’s words) for a successful start to the regular season. It is notable that the members of the union’s board typically are established veterans — players whose roster spots are not in jeopardy — and that players closer to the bubble may feel differently about the subject. But what is clear is that the union’s leadership is united on this approach.

While the NFL has yet to respond publicly to Tretter’s remarks or the resolution on the preseason, NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero has a quote from a league source:

This statement, however, breezes over Tretter’s point that the NFL chose to disregard the training camp timeline recommendations made by the two parties’ Joint Committee. Ignoring one of the cruxes of the players’ argument makes this response appear to be in bad faith, which should only inflame the situation further.

Although the NFL and NFLPA came together for a new collective bargaining agreement in March, those negotiations took place during the very early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Given that the NHL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball have all struggled with labor negotiations around restarting their seasons, these recent statements suggest that the NFL is headed for much of the same with training camp still scheduled to begin in three weeks.