Cruel Blue Summer

Written by: Paul Burke and Glenn Waricski

Covid-19, civil unrest, and hurricanes have made the summer of 2020 a disconsolate chapter in American history. Meanwhile, with all the upheaval, professional football is still operational. Although limited in scope due to Covid-19 restrictions, the NFL plans to play a complete season in 2020. As of the writing of this post, fans will not be able to attend games. For the countless fans around the country, this upcoming season will provide a respite from the current dour situation. Let us take a moment to delve into the truncated offseason preparation.

In the spring, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to terms on the virtual offseason workout program due to COVID-19 pandemic.  We decided to dig in and gauge the effect of this program and share some intelligent analysis from other sources.  We summarize what the program is, but most importantly,  our conclusion of what teams will have serious handicaps. 

In the past many teams would have veterans working out at their facility and getting a jump on next season.  We all remember Eli’s Duke camps with a crop of other players participating voluntarily.  It was a chance to develop timing and delve into the playbook; especially if a new playbook was introduced.

Here are some of the specifics of the rules of the program:

“The rules for “virtual” offseason programs state that no NFL team is required to participate in the “Virtual Period,” which is defined as running from April 20 to May 15, and that a team may conduct classroom work online even if it doesn’t assign its players specific workouts. If a team decides to hold an offseason program, its players would receive their customary per diem payments.”  Obviously a player will be eligible for the workout bonuses as stipulated in their contract(s).

“If a team declines to participate in the April 20-May 15 “Virtual Period,” then it will not be permitted to conduct an offseason workout program after that period ends — whether virtual or on-field. Following May 15, every team will have six weeks’ worth of offseason program time available to it, whether it used its three weeks from April 20 to May 15 or not.”

Teams conducting virtual workouts will be allowed to contact their players to determine whether they have the equipment they need and whether they’d be willing to wear monitoring devices to track their workouts to certify that they’ve completed them. Players who do not have the required equipment to complete the virtual offseason workouts assigned by their teams may be sent additional workout equipment at a maximum cost of $1,500 per player. That cost would be paid for by the team.

“Under pre-existing rules, NFL teams that hired new head coaches this offseason would have been allowed to start their offseason programs April 6, while teams that didn’t would have been allowed to start April 20. Under the newly established 2020 offseason rules, teams with new head coaches must wait until April 20 to begin their offseason programs, assuming they choose to do so at all, and teams with returning head coaches can begin April 27. Teams with new head coaches may conduct an additional voluntary veteran minicamp beginning May 11.”

In the past we discussed our concern with the current Giants organization and GM being behind the times in terms of neglect in usage of analytics.  Yes we know Gettleman hired some computer folks but we believe it is woefully too late.  Teams that are familiar with analytics, have had a staff in place for some time and who are forward thinking are going to have a significant advantage over teams that are late to the party.  The smart data driven teams will have set plans in place for a virtual workout and virtual classroom programs. They will have thought out the analytical tools and technologies to utilize in the program.   Think not only tracking tools but virtual reality programs for specific position players. The teams with a more robust data analytics team and are forward thinking can now analyze the program for loopholes such as Belichick who has a history of doing so.  Heck the Giants have, supposedly, just initiated their analytics department.

We also believe that teams with new coaching staffs will have a severe disadvantage versus veteran staffs.  Not only is their window shorter than in the past, you cannot replicate in the classroom what you practice with your collective group of teammates on the field.  With regards to the Giants, new head coach Joe Judge would have a daunting task under normal conditions. Factor in the “new normal” Covid-19, Judge’s first training camp and development of his program is limited. In every facet, the team will not be getting the much needed repetitions on the practice field. Moreover, Daniel Jones and his receivers are implementing a new system that requires intricate knowledge that you practice on the field much less honing your timing of plays.  You could also make a point that teams with lack of data driven and technologically up to date will have an advantage in this draft due to lack of traditional individual workout access as well as in person interactions but we believe this will have a much more significant impact on the upcoming season.

We are not along in our view and insight on the above.  Please check out the quick podcast from Mike Valenti of Radio.com.

https://www.radio.com/media/audio-channel/mike-valenti-discusses-nfl-virtual-offseason

But the above analysis makes us very concerned about the upcoming season due to their inherent disadvantages.  Joe Judge is working under very unusual and unchartered waters in resurrecting a team. We believe that the upcoming season will have an unusual competitive disparity League wide; especially in the first month. As Steve Young has stated, “September is the new preseason.” We will amend his statement: “September is the new June.”

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