NFL Punishment of the Seahawks for Off-Season Workouts: CBA Implications

By:  Richard Braun, Ruling Sports Intern (Twitter:  @RicBraun)

On Monday, the Seattle Seahawks became the first team to be punished by the NFL under the new collective bargaining agreement for excessive contact during organized team activities (OTAs). As a result, the Seahawks were docked two scheduled OTAs plus a workout day on Friday.

Article 22 of the new CBA deals with minicamps, and there is a strict prohibition against live contact during these OTAs. The CBA states that “there will be no contact work (e.g., “live” blocking, tackling, pass rushing, bump-and-run) or use of pads (helmets permitted) at minicamps.” The NFL did not specifically say what happened, but ESPN’s Mike Sando attended some OTAs in Seattle and reportedly did not notice any live contact that was different from other minicamps. Ross Tucker also tweeted that most teams practice at a similar pace as the Seahawks. While it is likely that a Seahawks player told the NFLPA about the infraction, the NFL monitors all teams during the offseason to ensure adherence to the rules. Each team is required to film all on-field activities during minicamp so that it can be used as evidence in the event of a complaint. The NFL must have felt compelled to look at the tape, and they determined that coach Pete Carroll’s practices were too tough.

The CBA has specific guidelines regarding how OTAs can be conducted that go beyond restricting any live contact. Mandatory veteran minicamps, like those taking place now, cannot last longer than three days, and two-a-day practices are only allowed during two of the three practice days. Further, players may not be on the field for more than two-and-a-half hours for one practice. Each club may only hold one mandatory veteran minicamp. Any violation of these rules subjects the team to fines or the forfeiture of OTA days.

In response to the NFL’s finding that the Seahawks violated CBA provisions related to off-season workouts, Pete Carroll hoped that the NFL would give teams more specific guidelines as to what is and what is not permitted in offseason workouts. While such things as live blocking and tackling are prohibited, these prohibitions arguably do not cover the gamut of contact that is at play in the sport of football. Football is obviously a physical sport by nature, so players are going to run into each other at some point in time. There are countless different types of contact which can take place during a given NFL practice. The line between live contact and not live contact is not specified in the CBA beyond those few examples above.  Given the issue surrounding the Seahawks’ off-season workout activities, this is clearly problematic as it does not appear that teams fully understand the types of contact they are limited to during off-season workout activities.

While this is the first time that a team has been punished for its off-season workout activities under the new CBA, similar punishments have been assessed in the past. In 2010, both the Raiders and the Ravens were docked OTA days for unspecified violations during their offseason programs. Similarly,  the violation committed by the Seahawks would also have been a violation under the previous deal, as the prior CBA likewise prohibited the use of pads (besides helmets) and live contact.  In the end, losing three days of practice in June will not hurt the Seahawks all that much.  Nonetheless, it should serve as notice to every other NFL team as to what sort of conduct is disallowed under the new CBA.  Moreso, though, if the Seahawks’ practices are indeed similar to every other team in the league, then either the NFL needs to enforce its policies more consistently or provide clear and specific guidelines about the types of contact that are prohibited.

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