Broncos’ veteran players opt out of OTAs due to COVID-19 concerns

DENVER — Citing COVID-19 as a “serious threat,” Broncos’ veteran players will not participate in upcoming offseason training activities.

The players released a statement through the NFLPA on Tuesday, explaining their position. The workouts were scheduled to begin next week.

“Playing in the NFL is a dream of our players who work tirelessly year-round to perform in America’s greatest game. With offseason programs starting in less than a week and without adequate protocols in place in order for us players to return safely, we will be exercising our right to not participate in voluntary offseason workouts,” the statement reads. “COVID-19 remains a serious threat to our families and to our communities, and it makes no sense for us as players to put ourselves at risk during this dead period.”

“Positivity rates in our city are higher than they were at this time last year and we know players have been infected at club facilities in recent weeks. Despite having a completely virtual offseason last year, the quality of play across the NFL was better than ever by almost measure. We hope players across the NFL work with our union as we did to get all of the facts so every player can make an informed decision.”

It’s unclear if the players will participate in Zoom meetings, either. Some told Denver7 that could happen.

Linebacker Alexander Johnson appeared to be a Broncos player who preferred to attend OTAs, tweeting, “Hell nah!! I’m not with the COVID-19 excuses… Plan Pandemic!!”

As a result of COVID-19 spreading last spring, the Broncos did not hold OTAs. Virtual meetings became the norm to prevent players from gathering together in person.

In information appearing to come from the league side, several national NFL reporters tweeted that 22 Broncos players worked out at the team’s facility this offseason, second most in the league. A source told Denver7 that number was accurate, but described it as a revolving door. From the player’s point of the view the number does not provide context as the players were not working out at the same time during a pandemic. And many are players rehabbing injuries who can continue workout.

Broncos player rep Brandon McManus responded in a text to Denver7 regarding the league implication of 22 players working out at the facility tweeted specifically by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

“Uneducated statement. Mostly Rehab players. No protocols in place. In order to get in on Monday. How can we test 65 players, meet, lift in a CBA agreed upon 4hr window? Do players have to come in on Sunday to test. Wouldn’t that make it mandatory and not voluntary?”

Per source, protocols remain in place at the Broncos UCHealth Training Center, including regular testing for players, social distancing and mandatory masks.

The NFL is not currently mandating players receive the COVID-19 vaccine. However, they will be encouraged and incentivized for doing so.

The NFL sent out a memo to teams on Tuesday that indicated that “Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees (other than players) should be expected to be vaccinated unless they have a bona fide medical or religious ground for not doing so. … Any staffer that refuses to be vaccinated without either a medical or religious reason will not be eligible for Tier 1 or Tier 2 status and will not be permitted to the ‘football only’ restricted area and may not work directly or in close proximity with players.”

The Broncos are the first team to take this opt out step and the Seattle Seahawks followed suit minutes later. More teams expected to follow after the union held a call with its players last week. Coach Vic Fangio was informed of the players’ decision Tuesday morning.

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