The Washington Commanders football team has finished its 3 sessions of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and will switch gears to minicamp this week, scheduled from the 14th to the 16th.
There aren’t a lot of differences between OTAs and minicamp, but there are some.
One difference is that the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement requires teams to allow one day of media access for every three days of OTAs, meaning that we’ve been getting media reports roughly once a week for the past three weeks. For minicamp, however, the CBA requires daily media access, which means that we can expect a flood of tweets, photos, videos and press conferences from the beat reporters this coming week.
Those tweets, photos and smartphone videos will need to hold fans for a long time because the team won’t be on the field together again until training camp, which will likely start in the final week of July. The team has already announced that it will not return to Richmond this year, and there will be no joint practices scheduled with any other teams. The team will be holding camp in Ashburn, and the first preseason game will be on August 13th vs the Panthers.
Mandatory attendance and Terry McLaurin
The second, and more significant, difference between OTAs and minicamp is that minicamp is mandatory. For Commanders fans, that raises the questions about star receiver Terry McLaurin, who did not attend the voluntary OTAs, reportedly because he and the team have not agreed to a contract extension.
McLaurin, who was drafted in 2019, has now played three seasons in the NFL, and only this offseason is it possible under the rules of the CBA for the team to offer him a contract extension.
With money for wide receiver contracts being thrown around like confetti this offseason, it’s the perfect time, from McLaurin’s perspective, to get paid. The WR market was reset in a huge way back in March, and NFL teams responded by selecting 6 wide receivers in the first 18 picks of April’s draft, trying to load up with talent by spending draft capital now that may save them cap dollars later.
Reports from several DC media outlets last week seemed to put a pin in concerns about whether or not McLaurin would attend this week’s minicamp based on head coach Ron Rivera’s comments when asked about Payne and McLaurin’s attendance. But Rivera stopped far short of assuring that McLaurin would attend, or of saying that he’d spoken to Terry about the matter. Ron Rivera’s only comment was, “I expect all our players to be here, because it is mandatory.”
That’s a motherhood and apple pie statement that talks only about the coach’s general expectations for everyone; it falls far short of being an assurance about the specific situation of anyone. I’d feel more confident if Rivera had said, for example, that he’d spoken to Terry McLaurin several times, and that the receiver had assured him that he would be present for this week’s workouts. His statement that he expects all players to attend mandatory minicamp is simple boilerplate coachspeak used across the league at this time of year — a way of responding to a question without actually saying anything meaningful (a skill that Washington’s defensive coordinator clearly needs to work on).
Minicamp is mandatory, but it is up to individual teams if players will be fined for skipping camp. The most McLaurin could be fined is $15,980 for the first day missed, $31,961 for the second and $47,936 for the third. In total, his fine could be $95,877 if he were to miss all three days. In the context of the extension that McLaurin can expect to sign this offseason, these fines would be small potatoes if his absence helps Terry get the contract extension that most fans think he deserves. The common sentiment seems to be, ‘Pay da man”.
Personally, I think that McLaurin will get extended before July. I also think he’ll be in minicamp this week, though I wouldn’t be shocked to see him take the same approach that Daron Payne took during OTAs — that is, doing strength and conditioning and individual drills, while sitting out team sessions to minimize the potential for injury.
Until there’s a definitive statement about Terry’s attendance (or until he actually shows up), I’ll be in a wait-and-see mode regarding the tactics used by Terry and his agent for the ongoing negotiation with the team. McLaurin is the team’s best player, and he’s worthy of consideration as the ‘face of the franchise’ given not only his on-field performance, but also his off-field behavior and public presentation skills. Let’s hope the Commanders front office gets this one right.
There are other differences between OTAs and minicamp; the latter is more structured. For example, during OTAs, teams may only suggest a two-hour time block for a player to be at the team facility, and each player is limited to 4 hours per day of OTAs. A player can choose when to go to the facility and when to leave. In minicamp, by contrast, teams can dictate what time of day the players are at the facility, rather than “suggesting” two hour blocks, and they get to keep the player in the facility for a much longer time period (10 hours for minicamp rather than 4 hours during OTAs).
The practices are still contact- and pads-free, but teams can now practice in the morning for 2.5 hours, then go in, have lunch, and come back out for a one-hour walk-through later in the day, where they can fix things that were not right at the morning practice, or they can start installing things to work on in the next practice.
Players and coaches must also be made available to the media on any day in which the media is allowed at practice. Teams cannot begin workouts prior to 7am local, and cannot keep players past 8:30pm local.
With three days of extensive, non-contact practices fully covered by the media, and multiple press conferences with coaches and players daily, fans will get their best look yet at the Commanders roster. While it is hard to learn too much about linebackers and running backs in non-contact practices, we should get lots of reports on things like WR-DB battles, which players are fielding punts, and which players are consistently getting first-team reps or rehabbing on the side field.
Enjoy it while it lasts; it’s a long 6 weeks between minicamp and training camp. Hopefully, we’ll have No. 17 at minicamp this week, and even more importantly, hopefully he will have a freshly inked contract extension in hand before training camp begins late next month.