The show goes on in the NFL, even in the midst of a global pandemic as the league plans its offseason programs for the post-NFL Draft period. For the Eagles, weeks of planning, collaboration, and creativity have resulted in the forming of an offseason program that will allow the players, on a voluntary basis, to take part in it virtually.
Taking their cue from the NFL and the Players Association, two entities that deserve credit for collectively agreeing to a set of rules that work for both sides as the league prepares for a 2020 season, the Eagles will begin their offseason program on April 27 – one week later than teams are permitted to begin their programs – and will last the approved nine weeks, ending on June 25. The rookie program will begin on May 11. The NFL is calling this first phase the "virtual period."
With the NovaCare Complex remaining closed and with many states still observing shelter-in-place mandates, the plan at this point is that the program will be conducted virtually, until further notice from the NFL. Many of the elements that were in place in previous years will remain. For example, in the two-week-long Phase 1 portion of the offseason, the emphasis will be on player conditioning and classroom teaching. And while exact specifics are still being planned, the Eagles – along with every team – will be limited to four hours per day with the players, four days per week. Teams are permitted to direct two hours of activity in each of those days.
In prior years, Phase 2 allowed the coaching staff to have the players on the field working without pads and without contact and players were allowed to practice "against air," meaning there were no players on the other side of the ball. Instead, teams used dummies and trash cans, in some instances, to help with the installation of the playbook part of the offseason process. Now, the virtual teaching will continue.
Still to be determined is the back end of the nine-week program, including any kind of a virtual or at-the-facility mandatory minicamp. Given the fluid nature of our country's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is possible that a virtual program continues all the way through June. The league and teams have acknowledged that the first priority is staying safe and protecting the community.
The Eagles have been preparing for this, as well as the NFL Draft, for many weeks. Head Coach Doug Pederson will try to recreate the successful classroom setting at the NovaCare Complex in a virtual manner where the position coaches and even the coordinators are able to share, through the Microsoft Teams platform, the X's and O's of the playbook to the players who voluntarily want to participate in the program.
Additionally, the league is permitting teams to provide workout equipment for voluntary use by quarantining players, up to a certain dollar threshold. Players won't have full gyms provided for them, but if they are in need of equipment such as bands or hand weights, the club is permitted to send them a limited number of items. It's important, then, that the Eagles identify how players are living now – big houses, small apartments, access to fields, etc. – as they determine what equipment can best serve the player as he pursues workouts away from the club.
The goal from the league and the Players Association was to provide a level playing field for every team and every player, and the two sides have achieved that mission with comprehensive rules covering all aspects of the virtual offseason program. The NFL Draft has taken center stage, and rightfully so, but there is much more planning at hand as the Eagles start their offseason program on April 27 that gives every player a chance to participate and virtually meet the new members of the coaching staff and dig in on the X's and O's for 2020.
First, though, is the 2020 NFL Draft, which runs this Thursday through Saturday. The Eagles have eight selections in the draft, their first No. 21 in the opening round.