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Proposed change in offseason schedule draws mixed reactions

ROCKY RIVER — Science vs. schedule.

With the NFL Players Association working on a proposal to shorten the offseason, six-time Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio believes the debate and the decision could come down to what’s better for the players physically vs. what they prefer on the calendar.

The proposal would put an end to the offseason practices of the spring. Instead, players would report in mid-June or early July for an extended training camp ramp-up.

Under the traditional setup, a team’s voluntary offseason program usually begins in mid-April with meetings and workouts and escalates to 10 organized team activities practices and three mandatory minicamp practices in mid-June. Bitonio said early in his career he felt the need to report in April in great shape, which meant he only had about three months after the end of the previous season. As he enters his 11th season, he appreciates the possible switch.

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“If you push it back, you have this four- or five-month offseason where you could take a month off, you can start slowly working into it and then get ready to go and then once you show up at the end of June or early July, then you have a three-week period of not really training camp practices but like an offseason program where they can kind of ramp it up,” he said Monday at the Browns’ annual charity golf outing at Westwood Country Club. “So I think body-wise and guys actually being able to train in the offseason, I think it’s probably the smartest move. People schedule-wise, they’re very used to certain things. So we’ll see how that goes.

“But I think science in a ramp-up period and training in the offseason, all those things seem like it’s a smart move.”

The union could ask for the change as quickly as 2025, NFL Network reported. The league calendar is set in the collective bargaining agreement, which runs through the 2030 season, so the owners would have to agree.

There might also be a fight within the union. Browns veteran defensive tackle Shelby Harris posted on X last week that “Players don’t want this.”

“I’m so confused how they are trying to twist this into saying players want to start camp the end of June,” he posted. “nobody wants anything to do with this change.”

Bitonio said he had talked to former teammate and former NFLPA president JC Tretter about the proposal but not to many other players.

“I don’t know if the guys really, truly know what the new proposal is,” Bitonio said. “So it’s hard to have a correct take right now, I would say. Once we get a more concrete idea of what’s happening, I think we can get a better understanding.

“There’s definitely gonna be some differing opinions, but I think we trust what’s best for our bodies and in preparing for a season.”

The idea of four or five straight months off would be attractive to many. But the revised schedule would shorten the summer — players are currently off from mid-June to late July — which could be a drawback, especially for players with children in school.

Bitonio has kids but feels the science shows the players would be better served by the long offseason and a deliberate, continuous build-up to the season. The beginning of the ramp-up would be training, running and some position work, with practice and offense vs. defense coming later.

“It’s still gonna be like half-days and things of that nature where you’re just trying to get used to being on a football field and moving like a football player,” Bitonio said.

Coach Kevin Stefanski said he hadn’t heard about the proposal but will follow whatever the rules are. His first year as coach in 2020 featured an all-remote offseason during the pandemic, and he prefers having the players in the building during the spring.

“Mother hen, you want all your players there every single day,” he said. “Whatever the rules are, we’ll abide by them. I feel really strongly that we have a safe, competitive, fun environment for our guys to get better, be around their teammates. So I’m definitely an advocate for that.”

Commissioner Roger Goodell has begun openly talking about adding an 18th regular-season game, and CBS reported the NFL doesn’t want to wait until the CBA expires. Bitonio, 32, believes he’ll be retired by the time an 18th game arrives, and that the union would have to get more in return than just the potential offseason changes.

“I would hope we would get more than a couple of voluntary offseason programs switched,” he said.

The 17th game was added in 2021 after 43 seasons of 16 games. Stefanski said the narrative seems to be that an 18th game is coming and would be accompanied by a second in-season bye week.

“That seems to make some sense if they ever went that route,” he said. “We think long and hard about those 17 games right now and how to plan training camp, how to plan the early part of your season, how to plan the late part of your season. So if the numbers were to change, the variables were to change in terms of number of games, you’d obviously have to take that into account.”

Bitonio said a second bye sounds great during the season, but not when he thinks about it stretching until mid-February.

“The more games you play the more time you have to give guys off and I think there’s ways to work around it where maybe you have like a mini-bye,” he said. “It probably adds a week still, but it’s at least taking care of the guys’ bodies.”

Science vs. schedule.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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