There are two important days for the Patriots this week.
The first was Monday, when NFL teams were allowed to begin their rookie developmental periods, something coach Bill Belichick acknowledged New England was planning to engage in when speaking with reporters after the draft.
The second is Friday, when the first virtual offseason phase ends, when the NFL has asked teams to prepare plans to meet a set of standards for reopening facilities, and when the league will need to outline its next steps going forward.
“Whatever guidance and direction we get on that, when we get it, we’ll modify things as necessary,” Belichick said. “At this point, I’d say we’re planning kind of a normal spring in terms of covering material and giving them information, testing them to make sure that they are comprehending it, can give it back to us.
"But we’ll just have to modify that as we go. Whether it’s training camp in the early part of the season, so forth, however that ends up happening, we’re ready to adjust along the way.”
The rookie developmental period, a seven-week program that replaced the annual rookie symposium in 2016, allows teams an extra hour per day for instruction with rookies up to five days per week.
For their time, the rookie participants are paid an additional $135 per day.
Teams hope these sessions will alleviate some of the pressure on rookies to be ready to play a season with potentially little on-field work with their new teammates.
“That will eventually merge into a full-scale-like OTA-type meeting schedule that we would normally have, without the on-the-field work, but try to use that time to bring the team together in terms of putting our plays in and so forth, also trying to help them structure their training so they can best prepare for the season,” Belichick said.
Right now, it’s not clear what exactly that will look like, but Friday is the day around which teams, players, and fans can expect to find out.
The NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed in April to rules for a first phase of offseason programming running through May 15. After that, there will be a short pause before teams can begin a next phase May 18, according to ESPN. Teams can have six weeks’ worth of offseason programming in that second phase, which must wrap up by June 26.
There are some rules already in place governing player compensation for that programming and how much time teams are allowed to ask for from their players, but it’s not clear what that next phase will look like. The biggest question is whether any teams will be able to do in-person work from May 18-June 26.
In April, the league had said that no team could open its facilities unless all 32 teams could open simultaneously. In a memo from commissioner Roger Goodell last week, though, there was no mention of that restriction, and teams were told that they would need to get permission from state and local authorities to reopen.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said Monday that the state would begin a four-phase reopening plan May 18. He did not state which businesses or industries would reopen in the first phase, but said the first phase would be for industries “naturally set up” to avoid face-to-face interactions, which seems unlikely to include football.
There is only so much football learning that can take place in an online classroom, but the Patriots’ attitude as the NFL adjusts to COVID-19 precautions and regulations has been to take what they can get and try to make the most of it.
After the draft, and starting some of that virtual work with players via WebEx meetings, Belichick was pleased by how the first few sessions had gone.
“In a way surprising, better than I would have expected,” Belichick said. “Haven’t really been any problems. Players are engaged. They’re learning a lot of material and putting a lot of time and work in it.
"They’re following the guidelines that we’ve given them in terms of their training program, on-the-field training program, weightlifting and so forth.
"There are obviously varying degrees of facilities, equipment and so forth. But one way or another, I think they’re finding a way to work around it, and we are, too.”