As the union president, Browns center JC Tretter is at the center of teams boycotting offseason activities on the field. (Icon Sportwire)
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
What to make of the Browns following the lead of union leader JC Tretter and boycotting coach Kevin Stefanski’s voluntary offseason practices?
They didn’t have a single practice on the field last year until August because of the coronavirus pandemic – and they won 11 regular-season games and posted their first playoff victory since 1989.
So how important could they be?
First-year coach Stefanski and his staff implemented completely new offensive and defensive systems last year without the benefit of offseason practices. And after the Browns laid a rotten egg in Game 1 in Baltimore, they won four in a row. Never lost two in a row all season.
Even the argument that offseason practices are crucial to the development of younger players seems strained. Jedrick Wills made the giant transition from right tackle to left tackle as a rookie without the benefit of offseason practices. And he did pretty good.
So what’s the point of putting the players on the field in May and June for up to 10 organized team activities (OTAs)? Other than it’s what they’ve always done?
Rest, relaxation and recovery
On the union’s Website on Monday, Tretter wrote:
“The intensity of OTAs has continued to be ratcheted up. What used to be seen as a time for teaching has turned into full-speed, non-padded practices that are injuring players unnecessarily. There is no reason a player should get injured, beat up or have a concussion during the offseason. The offseason should be a time of recovery and individual preparation so that players can show up for training camp physically and mentally eager to get to work with their teammates.”
What Tretter doesn’t say is this: The players don’t get paid to work in May and June.
Yes, some of them have contract incentives to attend these voluntary sessions, but the vast majority of players merely get a daily per diem of $275.
If players were paid at a rate closer to their in-season salaries, I’m sure this wouldn’t be an issue. But the owners are not going to start paying for services they’ve been receiving for virtually free. And the pandemic and resultant successful NFL season brought to a head an issue that has rankled players for decades.
Why interrupt their offseason vacations for increasingly physical practices in springtime?
Keeping up with the Chiefs
Like any coach, Stefanski wants to coach his players any chance he gets. Look, he’s not doing it to ruin their vacations. He’s trying to win.
They all want to find a competitive edge to give their teams a jumpstart on opponents.
Now, this is the crux of the problem. By boycotting their offseason program, are the Browns falling behind other AFC title contenders? Last year, nobody practiced in May and June. This year, some teams are not honoring the union’s boycott.
The Chiefs, two-time AFC champions, reportedly had 81 players show up for the first day of Phase 2 in Kansas City. The Dolphins, who were 10-6 last year but missed the playoffs, reportedly had more than 70 players on hand.
Both of those teams reportedly received concessions from their coaches to ease back on original OTA plans.
“Our player leaders proposed changes to their teams’ programs, such as shortening the number of weeks of the offseason program and decreasing the number of practices, as well as decreasing intensity by converting practice to walk-throughs and removing 11 v. 11 periods,” Tretter wrote. “These are significant improvements for our membership.”
Obviously, there is room for compromise.
The Browns’ player leadership council has to forge an agreement with Stefanski on altering the offseason program in a way that would be acceptable to players. This wouldn’t seem to be a big problem. Stefanski developed enormous trust with his players in their first year together. Communication is at the heart of that trust.
How hard could it be to agree on an offseason program that would be productive yet not unnecessarily demanding?
The Browns came a long way under Stefanski in Year One. Surely, they are not going to jeopardize their Super Bowl hopes by stubbornly refusing to budge on a compromise.