The NFL policies all off-season team activities while minimizing the off-season strain on players’ bodies through strict adherence to the policies delineated in Articles 21 and 22 of the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
OTAs, or organized team activities, are not exempt from meticulous oversight.
In this article, I explore all aspects of OTAs, the reasons for their existence, and the severe penalties that result from OTA violations.
- OTAs are organized team activities: ten days of voluntary practice activities held by NFL teams in late May and the first half of June.
- OTAs often involve 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills; however, all exercises lack physical contact.
- All details regarding OTAs are closely managed and governed via Article 21 of the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
What are OTAs?
OTAs are organized team activities: a maximum of ten days of organized practice activities held by NFL teams.
The ten days of activities occur during three weeks of the four-week long “Phase III” of the NFL’s nine-week off-season workout program. A one-week-long mandatory minicamp occurs during the remaining week of Phase III. 
The remaining five weeks of the NFL’s nine-week off-season workout program involve a two-week first phase of strengthening, conditioning, and injury rehabilitation and a three-week second phase of limited drills. 
OTAs frequently involve 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills, although no contact is permitted.
All aspects of OTAs are highly modulated, pursuant to Article 21 of the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. 
The below video illustrates the first week of the 2022 Kansas City Chiefs’ OTAs:
I explore the most salient regulations below:
The ten days of OTAs are a maximum value; some teams may schedule as few as eight.
The schedule of OTAs is dictated by Article 21 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement:
“The Club may conduct a maximum of three days of OTAs during each of the first two weeks of Phase Three. A maximum of four days of OTAs may be conducted during either the third week or the fourth week of Phase Three, with the Mandatory Veteran Minicamp (Article 22, Section 2) to be held during the other week.” 
OTAs may not occur on weekends.
Time Commitment and Coaches
During the ten days of organized team activity, players may be at the club facility at most six hours per day. 
In addition, of the six hours at the facility, players are limited to no more than two hours on the field. 
During OTAs, all coaches are allowed on the field. 
Are OTAs Mandatory?
OTA workouts are strictly voluntary, so players may not be fined for failing to attend. 
A team cannot indicate that the workouts are not voluntary or that “a player’s failure to participate in a workout program or classroom instruction will result in the player’s failure to make the Club or result in other adverse consequences affecting his working conditions.” 
Contact and Equipment
During OTAs, contact work is prohibited in all workouts (e.g., “live” blocking, tackling, pass rushing, bump-and-run, etc.) 
Furthermore, shoulder pads are forbidden, although protective knee and elbow pads are not. 
Lastly, helmets are permitted. 
Media and Fans
Local media is allowed access to OTAs.
During OTAs, one of every three days is open to the media, meaning four days of the ten must be viewable by the press. 
Fans are not as fortunate, as OTAs are off-limits to them. 
What is the Purpose of OTAs?
When OTAs begin, teams are ninety players strong, and competition to make the 53-man roster is intense.
For players who aren’t the stars with guaranteed starting spots, OTAs are their chance to impress coaches and players. Three great weeks of practice could help fringe players secure a spot on the roster when training camp begins.
What players demonstrate during these limited team activities might make the difference between a burgeoning NFL career or a brief stint in an NFL practice jersey. 
Why do Players Skip OTAs?
Players skip OTAs for a variety of reasons.
Because OTAs are optional, players cannot be fined or suspended for missing them.
And while players receive a very nominal amount of money for attending OTAs, to an NFL veteran, it is the equivalent of one grain of sand on a large beach, entirely insignificant relative to their multi-million dollar contracts.
For wealthy, established star players, there is no incentive to attend.
To counter this problem in Minnesota, former Vikings GM Rick Spielman implemented bonuses related to off-season workouts to incentivize attendance:
“Part of the workout bonuses during the off-season was that they had to hit X percentage, and if they hit X percentage, they get $100,000, or $200,000 or whatever it is.”
Players like star defensive end Olivier Vernon had a “workout bonus” built into his contract.
Vernon’s annual workout bonus is $250,000, which he receives if he attends his team’s OTAs.
However, in 2017, Vernon elected not to join his team for OTAs. Instead, he stayed home to work out privately. As a result, he surrendered his workout bonus.
Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of players who skip OTAs do so for reasons related to contract negotiations.
This action brings attention to their desire for a new or restructured deal. 
During OTAs, teams must ensure that they adhere to every detail of the CBA, as all on-field workout sessions are recorded, and the penalties for violations are incredibly punitive.
According to Article 21 of the CBA:
Clubs shall film all three Phases of the on-field workout sessions and shall maintain a copy of such films until thirty days after the start of the regular season. The NFLPA may view such films (after signing a confidentiality agreement satisfactory to the NFL at the start of each League Year of this Agreement) upon the filing of a complaint alleging a violation of this Article. 
In 2021, the NFL fined the Jacksonville Jaguars $200,000 and head coach Urban Meyer $100,000 due to OTA improprieties.
Many speculate that the Jaguars violated the no-shoulder-pad rule or the no-contact rule. 
The video below briefly discusses the 2021 Jacksonville Jaguars OTA violations:
Even the most die-hard football fans are likely unfamiliar with the degree to which the Collective Bargaining Agreement governs the implementation of OTAs.
As the most popular sport in America, OTAs provide yet another reason for pro football to dominate our discourse 365 days of the year.