METAIRIE, La. — New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton told players Wednesday that they will not have any type of offseason program this spring, virtual or otherwise.
“Take care of your families, your health, and be ready this summer,” Payton was quoted as saying, with general manager Mickey Loomis confirming the coach’s comment during his pre-draft news conference.
Payton shared the news in a video conference with more than 80 players on Wednesday morning. He said the Saints will not have a team-led offseason program even if the NFL rules change and allow players to return to their facilities.
“No virtual workouts, no online meetings, no workouts at the facility, even if it’s allowed,” Payton was quoted as saying. “Show up in July for training camp in the best shape of your life.”
@Webex team meeting today kinda felt like… pic.twitter.com/G5VopS96zE
— Sean Payton (@SeanPayton) April 22, 2020
Loomis said the team will still have communication with players throughout the offseason, but “we’re not gonna be doing virtual workouts and things like that.”
“I think [Payton’s point] is more about, ‘Look, pay attention to your family. Pay attention to keeping yourself and your family safe. Abide by the orders of each of the states that you’re in. We’ll handle the rest of it,'” Loomis said. “‘Get yourself in shape. And then when we’re able to get together, we’ll move on and we’ll have a great training camp and a great season.’
“And look, we have a lot of guys that we have great faith and trust in in terms of being in shape when we do get going in training camp.”
The NFL and NFLPA agreed to a set of modified offseason workout rules last week to help them navigate through the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a league memo obtained by ESPN, if teams decide to hold offseason workout programs this year, “classroom instruction and on-field activities that customarily take place at the Club facility … are being supplanted by on-line classroom instruction and virtual workouts for an indeterminate period.”
The rules for “virtual” offseason programs state that no NFL team is required to participate in the “Virtual Period,” which is defined as running from April 20 to May 15, and that a team may conduct classroom work online even if it doesn’t assign its players specific workouts. If a team decides to hold an offseason program, its players would receive their customary per diem payments ($235 minimum per day) just as if they were there in person and would be entitled to receive any offseason workout bonuses specified in their contracts, provided they fulfill the participation requirements their contracts specify.
If a team declines to participate in the “Virtual Period,” it will not be permitted to conduct an offseason workout program after that period ends — whether virtual or on-field. After May 15, every team will have six weeks of offseason program time available to it, regardless of whether it used its three weeks from April 20 to May 15.
The memo leaves open the possibility that COVID-19 restrictions could be eased or lifted after May 15 but allows for the possibility that offseason programs would have to be conducted virtually after that date as well. It specifies that no team’s offseason program can run past June 26 and, perhaps most importantly, that if any team’s facility remains closed because of the coronavirus, then all 32 team facilities must remain closed.
As for whether it is realistic to hope that teams can have a normal training camp in July and August, Loomis said, “That’s a good question. You guys know as much as I do, really.
“We don’t know what the future holds,” Loomis added. “We’re gonna plan as if we’re gonna have our normal training camp, but we don’t know. Those decisions will be made above my pay grade.”
Loomis said it helps that the Saints have so much continuity, with the same coaching staff and so many core players having been together for a long stretch of time. He compared it to the 2011 lockout.
However, Loomis did acknowledge that the lack of a full offseason could affect how teams look at developmental players in the draft and what expectations they will have for rookies.
“I don’t know that I can say it would change ‘philosophies’ [on whom to draft], but I do think we’ve had discussions about guys that are a little bit more developmental and the fact that we’re not gonna have as much time with them this offseason,” Loomis said. “So it’s gonna be harder for them to contribute in Year 1 than it would ordinarily.
“But look, it comes down to, ‘What’s your long-term vision for these guys?’ It’s not gonna prevent us from taking someone that we have a long-term vision for. But we recognize that we may not get as much in Year 1 as you would otherwise.”
ESPN’s Dianna Russini contributed to this report.