For the Green Bay Packers, the 2016 NFL season is almost here.
In fact, three teams with new head coaches — the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers — all started their voluntary offseason programs this past week with another trio — the Miami Dolphins, New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — scheduled to get their programs underway next week.
The Packers and 25 other teams with returning coaches can start their offseason programs April 18, beginning with two weeks of strength and conditioning. Because attendance is voluntary based on the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, most teams use workout bonuses to entice established veterans to participate.
No one takes it more seriously than the Packers.
Historically, Green Bay has ranked among the league’s highest spenders when it comes to handing out workout bonuses. Rarely does any contract drawn up for veterans by general manager Ted Thompson and chief negotiator Russ Ball not include some type of workout bonus in the language of the deal.
This year, the Packers will pay up to $5,197,000 to 20 veterans who have workout bonuses included in their contracts. That’s on top of the $195 daily per diem that’s given to all players who attend.
The largest workout bonuses ($500,000) the Packers will pay out this offseason will go to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers, cornerback Sam Shields and receiver Jordy Nelson. The smallest ($10,000) goes to tight end Richard Rodgers, a former third-round pick.
This comes after Green Bay paid out nearly $10 million in roster bonuses over the last month to defensive lineman Mike Daniels ($3.8 million), receiver Randall Cobb ($3.5 million), right tackle Bryan Bulaga ($2.25 million) and elephant rusher Datone Jones ($457,264).
Nearly every veteran has a financial incentive to work out at team facilities. The one exception was Peppers, whose three-year, $25.5 million contract didn’t include a workout bonus in the first year. Peppers ended up collecting $2,100 in compensation off daily salary, which equated to 12 days of participation.
Over the past two years, the Packers have doled out roughly $9 million in workout bonuses, the most in the NFL over that time. Additionally, they paid out more than $200,000 to veterans who didn’t have workout bonuses already factored into their contracts.
The practice makes sense when you consider the organization’s draft-and-develop philosophy and its reliance on young players. It's also a good way to monitor the conditioning of players, especially with the growing number of offseason training facilities.
While the NFLPA salary database reflects only whether veterans have satisfied their offseason participation, it provides a glimpse into how active players working on a rookie contract were during the program. All told, there were 39 Packers players without workout bonuses who collected only per diems last year.
Nineteen collected the full $5,850 for taking part in all 30 days last season, including Daniels, Jones, offensive linemen Corey Linsley and JC Tretter, receivers Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis and defensive back Micah Hyde.
Only two of the 39 — running back Eddie Lacy ($4,875) and inside linebacker Josh Francis ($2,145) — collected less than $5,000, according to a league source with access to the NFLPA salary database. Based on the $195 daily per diem, that equates to 25 days and 11 days of participation, respectively.
Workout bonuses also can be used to reward veterans such as Daniels, Nelson and Letroy Guion, who spend most of their offseason in Green Bay regardless of the April 18 start date. Daniels trained all offseason in Green Bay and went on to have a career year with 49 tackles and four sacks.
In December, the Packers gave him a four-year, $41 million extension that included an annual $400,000 workout bonus for participating in future offseason programs.
“I wanted to be in Green Bay,” Daniels said shortly after signing his extension in December. “This is a great place to be and personally, I've been getting better every year here. I love living here, you know I'm here year round. Everybody leaves. I must love the snow, right? Hey, this is home to me. This is home.”
The offseason program consists of three phases, beginning with two weeks of a strength and conditioning program, and physical rehabilitation for players coming off injuries.
The second phase lasts three weeks and includes on-field workouts that may include individual player instruction and drills. No live contact or team offense vs. team defense drills are permitted.
The third phase is four weeks and includes organized team activities, in which teams may conduct 10 days of organized practice activity with no live contact, 7-on-7, 9-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills. For the Packers, OTAs run May 23-24, May 26, June 1-3 and June 6-9. The Packers will close with a mandatory minicamp that runs June 14-16.
Based on the CBA, the offseason program can last no more than 10 weeks with no more than four workouts per week. Teams are not permitted to conduct workouts on weekends.
Injured players who aren't able to participate in workouts still can collect bonuses by reporting and taking part in whatever they are able to.
When asked at last month’s NFL owners meetings, McCarthy said he didn’t anticipate any wide-scale changes to how the Packers will attack their offseason program.
“Phase I and II will be pretty much the same, the same schedule we’ve been on,” McCarthy said. “There’s not really any adjustments. There’s a lot of conversations here at the owners meeting about potential future ideas about those phases and then Phase III, the OTA practices, we’ll use all of ours. It will look the same to you. There will be some adjustments to practice.”
Packers workout bonuses
QB Aaron Rodgers $500,000
LB Clay Matthews $500,000
CB Sam Shields $500,000
WR Jordy Nelson $500,000
LB Julius Peppers $500,000
WR Randall Cobb $400,000
DL Mike Daniels $400,000
G Josh Sitton $300,000
S Morgan Burnett $300,000
T Bryan Bulaga $250,000
G T.J. Lang $200,000
DL Letroy Guion $200,000
LB Nick Perry $200,000
K Mason Crosby $150,000
RB James Starks $100,000
P Tim Masthay $100,000
G Lane Taylor $50,000
TE Jared Cook $25,000
WR Ty Montgomery $12,000
TE Richard Rodgers $10,000