July 29, 2021

Hub Arkush: How many, if any, Bears will be AWOL from mandatory minicamp and why?

NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, Union President and Cleveland Browns center J.C. Tretter and their leadership team have spent the past two months encouraging as many players as possible to skip all voluntary work and fight to change multiple workplace routines with a serious misinformation campaign.

At the heart of the NFLPA’s claims is the false premise that injuries were down last season with no offseason whatsoever and that players shouldn’t be asked to be around team facilities with all the uncertainty due to COVID-19.

According to Sportico, a partner of The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, injuries were up 14% last season over the average of the 10 prior seasons.

It reports that before last season the 2015 campaign set the record with play being stopped for injuries 786 times. That record was broken last season with 801 injuries.

According to Sharp Football Analysis, injuries were up 16% last year over the first half of the season. From 2017 to 2019 there was an average of 477 injuries causing a player to leave the field over the first half of each season. In 2020, it was 555.

By every measure I can find injuries were up last year.

While that is not proof in of itself that the lost offseason was responsible, it is clear proof limiting or eliminating offseason work is not beneficial, and last year and in the lockout summer of 2011 injuries were up significantly.

As for players being uncertain about the dangers of catching the virus, can anyone think of a single industry that has done a better job of protecting it’s players and all employees while maintaining near full-time operations than the NFL?

With that, the dramatic decrease in cases and serious illness as vaccines have been rolled out over the past few months, and with the rest of the country now racing toward a full reopening, the NLFPA using virus fears as a reason players should be excused from or refuse to participate in offseason work as allowed in the Collective Bargaining Agreement is a bad joke.

Let’s save our opinions on why the NFLPA is doing all it can to disrupt the offseason for another day. It would take a book rather than a column for me to offer mine.

But I am intrigued by why the local team I cover, the Bears, have chosen to move forward with their “mandatory veteran minicamp” Tuesday while others, including the Colts, Eagles, 49ers and Texans, have canceled theirs either in a bow to NFLPA pressure or for other reasons of their own.

There is a false narrative out there that general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy somehow reset the pressure to win and keep their jobs by drafting Justin Fields.

Bears Chairman George McCaskey couldn’t have been any clearer last January in stating that he believes the only measure that matters is if his team and organization are improving and moving in the right direction when it comes to the continued employment of his G.M. and head coach.

Coming off an 8-8, one-and-done playoff season, the only way that happens now for Pace and Nagy is if they win now.

As expectations rose and fell last season I regularly reminded folks of the uber difficult circumstances coaches and players were working under because of COVID-19 protocols.

It left an open question as to how good or bad all 32 teams, including the Bears, were because of all the distractions.

It is hard to imagine anything more important for these Bears right now, with two new quarterbacks and a young and inexperienced rookie defensive coordinator, to get as much on-field work as possible between now and Sept. 12.

I don’t believe the Bears ever considered not holding their mandatory veteran camp, so the question of the hour now is how many veterans, each facing up to $93,000 in fines if absent will fail to show, and why?

The fines are not mandatory, but if most of the team is there how do you not fine the players who aren’t?

Tuesday’s big reveal should be fascinating.

Who will be there, who isn’t and why, and what will that tell us about how ready these Bears players are to use every advantage at their disposal to win now?

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media