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How the coronavirus pandemic changed the NFL schedule

The NFL shortened offseason workouts last year and saw a drop in reported concussions. Should its schedule change for good?
Tom Brady and the Bucs have had different offseason schedules because of the pandemic. The changes have prompted conversations about altering future workout schedules, too.
Tom Brady and the Bucs have had different offseason schedules because of the pandemic. The changes have prompted conversations about altering future workout schedules, too. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Aug. 12, 2021|Updated Aug. 15, 2021

Forget the 43-year-old quarterback leading a once-foundering franchise to a world title. The most astounding flight into the face of logic in 2020 was piloted by the NFL itself.

Amid a raging global pandemic, the league somehow shoehorned all 256 regular-season games into its original 17-week schedule, with no cancellations. Similarly, the playoffs went off as planned, culminating with Super Bowl 55 before a limited audience at Raymond James Stadium.

While defying the odds, Roger Goodell and Co. unwittingly may have orchestrated a radical overhaul of the league’s offseason and preseason.

In a year devoid of preseason games, minicamps and organized team activities, the league experienced a 30-percent reduction in concussions, according to NFL Players Association president JC Tretter. Further, injuries that resulted in missed time or games for players decreased by nearly 25 percent, and ACL tears were not higher compared to previous seasons.

“Our process is to follow the science on what is safest for our guys,” Tretter said in a lengthy article posted on the association’s web site.

“And many of the changes this past year — like no in-person offseason workouts/practices, the extended acclimation period before training camp and no preseason games — gave us a year of data that demonstrates maintaining some of these changes long-term is in the best interest of the game.”

Whether a modification — or even elimination — of the NFL’s conventional offseason slate comes to fruition is uncertain. But Tretter has some pretty prominent allies, including a guy recently fitted for his seventh Super Bowl ring.

Bucs star Tom Brady made a strong push to change the NFL's offseason practice schedule.
Bucs star Tom Brady made a strong push to change the NFL's offseason practice schedule. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

In May, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady made an impassioned speech on an NFLPA conference call, urging his fellow NFL players to unite in pushing for the modification of offseason work rules. Additionally, the Bucs were among more than 20 NFL teams issuing statements through the association indicating they wouldn’t participate in offseason workouts.

That move has the support of Bruce Arians — to a degree. While the Bucs coach said he had no problem with his starters and veterans missing the handful of organized team activities held at Advent Health Training Center in May, he indicated some team-building sessions (such as minicamps) are essential.

“There’s ways to get rid of spring, but you’ve got to extend August and July,” Arians said during the Bucs’ mandatory minicamp in June.

“You’ve got to get this work done some time. You can’t just eliminate this work; it doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to coach them, they can’t just show up and play games.

“If you want to just get rid of spring ball, that’s fine, but you’ve still got to have four or five more weeks to get them in shape and get them mentally ready to go.”

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