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NFL Draft

Could No NFL Joint Practices In 2020 Become A Permanent Change?

  • The Draft Network
  • June 3, 2020
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The NFL offseason has largely remained untouched by the coronavirus pandemic, save for a few exceptional cases. 

Free agency was on schedule, though players like Cam Newton suffered for not having the ability to go to team physicals. The draft was virtual, but there were none of the technical errors or on-camera snafus that were expected. Rookie minicamps have been held virtually as well, which certainly isn't ideal but also isn't completely prohibitive to success in the regular season. It just means training camp will matter a little more. 

Unfortunately, training camp limitations are already coming down the mountain. Teams were informed Tuesday by commissioner Roger Goodell that joint practices would not be held during training camp this year and all teams will be holding their camps at their team facilities. This is in an effort to minimize the amount of travel and social contact each team will have as they convene for camp. It’s an understandable and justifiable precaution, especially considering the rapid spread of COVID-19. Five Oklahoma State college football players have tested positive for coronavirus following a summer practice; players that have yet to arrive on campus were told to stay home.

The lack of joint practices may seem like a small blip on the waveform of NFL adjustments during the coronavirus pandemic, but it could matter in the short term. Joint practices tend to be closer to scrimmages than install, both in terms of how the structure and how physical the players get during the practices. There's inherently more competition and more hitting, and sometimes, there are fights as well.

Hitting and fighting are true of all training camp practices, but in an era where fewer and fewer veteran players are participating in preseason games, joint practices are important benchmarks for starting units that may not play together for the entire preseason. The devaluation of the preseason led to the change made in the most recent collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which has the fourth preseason game being replaced by a bye week when the league eventually moves to a 17-game regular season. Joint practices were a large part of that move; coaches view them as the opportunity to heighten the stakes around plain old install or 10-10-10 days, and with fewer preseason games, those opportunities become more important.

But what if the league doesn't have joint practices this year and nothing really happens? If the quality of play in the early weeks of the season doesn't deteriorate that much following a generally sound training camp process, then keeping joint practices on the back burner altogether may be in the near future. A shortened preseason is going to have the veterans more likely to play in the preseason anyway, and the preseason likely generates more revenue for the league and teams than ticketed access to joint practices for individual franchises.

The general push from the player's union and veterans will be decreasing the intensity of the offseason both in duration and physicality, to increase the length of their prime as well as the length of their career altogether. This has been the effort since the CBA negotiations earlier this year, but with the abbreviated offseason coming as a result of coronavirus, there's an opportunity here for a testing ground for such long-term ideas as removing joint practices altogether.

As it stands now, teams with veteran units and generally unchanged rosters will better weather the storm of no joint practices, but all in all, I don't expect a big change in the team's performances. I think that there will be a push to remove joint practices outright in the future as teams and players continue to find a middle ground to lengthen the regular season without increasing injury risk.

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