The Giants 2014 season starts today as the team kicks off their Organized Team Activities (OTAs). The changes to OTAs and off season contact rules was the biggest concession given to the players in the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and has impacted player development and quality of play on the field as practice time is severely restricted.
What are the OTA’s? They are nine weeks of meetings and low impact walk through practices designed to keep players fresh and begin working on new wrinkles for the coming season. Contact is not permitted at any point during the OTAs.
Phase One, lasting two weeks, is largely strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation, although quarterbacks can throw to receivers to practice timing. The receivers cannot be covered by defensive backs. No coaches, other than strength and conditioning, are permitted on the field during this phase. They are not even permitted to observe the players. Other than the limited pitch and catch stated above, footballs cannot be used during this phase of the OTAs.
Phase Two is the subsequent three weeks, and allows all coaches to participate, and includes individual player instruction and drills, unit only “perfect play drills” (offense, defense, and special teams units, separately), and excludes player on player drills. Helmets are also not permitted during phase two.
Phase Three encompasses the final four weeks of the OTA’s, and while permitting offense vs. defense drills, offensive line drills, and other adversarial practices, but contact is still strictly prohibited per the CBA. Helmets can be worn, but not shells (padded uniforms) to discourage players from making contact. Practice activity is limited to ten days, including a mandatory veteran minicamp (The Giants takes place June 17th to 19th). The Giants other practice dates are May 28th to 30th, June 2nd and 3rd, June 5th, June 9th and 10th, and June 12th and 13th. The minicamp concludes the OTAs.
Except for the veteran minicamp, participation in the OTA’s is voluntary and the CBA specifically states that no coach may indicate otherwise or stipulate that a player making the team is dependent on his participating in the off season program. However, unless embroiled in a contract dispute or an established veteran, it is highly unusual for a player to boycott these practice sessions.
If teams violate the rules, especially the contact rules, they are subject to fines up to $500,000, loss of a week of OTAs, and, in the extreme, loss of a fourth round draft pick. Given the reduced number of practice days permitted under the 2011 CBA, and the precious nature of picks in the NFL draft, head coaches are extremely careful to maintain a strict no contact policy during the OTAs. All of the workouts are filmed in order to ensure enforcement of the rules and clubs are required to produce the video if a violation is suspected.
Teams with new head coaches were able to open their OTAs on April 7th, a two week jump on the rest of league. This courtesy does not extend to teams with new coordinators, such as the Giants and new Offensive Coordinator, Ben McAdoo. Giants players have received copies of his playbook to study but are not permitted any their coaches until the OTAs formally open off season activity today.
The reason the players wanted this change is obvious – coaches were pushing the envelope with “mandatory voluntary” workouts including contact (even though it was not permitted under the former CBA) was taking place almost year round. This burned players out, careers shortened, and enjoyment of the game lost. However, the concessions negotiated in the 2011 CBA are an over correction.
It makes sense for veteran players returning to the same system to value additional time off and reduced contact in the offseason. They know the system and the physical requirements to play their positions. For younger players, still learning the NFL and a team’s system, additional classroom time and one on one coaching would shorten their learning curve. Players with less than four years experience should be exempt from the no contact rule starting with the opening of the league year on March 11th.
Similarly, if a team hires a new coordinator, those players impacted should have access and limited classroom time to begin the process of assimilating the new system. Offenses and defenses are complex at the NFL level, and players learn at varying paces. In order to ensure that everyone is ready to go when training camp opens in July, those players that want to put in extra work should have the opportunity. Players that don’t absorb the playbook won’t make it on to the field and will eventually be cut. That certainly was not the NFL Players Association’s objective in negotiating this contract. Perhaps these suggested changes will be considered in the next round of Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.
McAdoo’s new offense will be learned by players on their own, in limited classroom sessions, and in no contact, walk through practices. The good news is, every other team is governed by the same set of rules. Chip Kelly was new in Philadelphia last season, and the Eagles made playoffs, so it can be done.
If you are interested in reading the OTA rules on your own, they can be found here.