What Is an OTA in Football?
OTA is not a single event, it is an umbrella term that means “organized team activity.” OTAs refer to practices and team meetings in the off-season. In addition, OTAs can mean team events such as morale-building boot camps and bowling excursions.
Key fact: each NFL team is allowed to schedule a certain number of OTA's during the offseason per the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NFL Player's Association.
NFL teams publish the dates of their scheduled OTA practices. Practices are generally held in May and June and include veterans, recently drafted players and un-drafted free agents invited as athletes.
Typically, the OTA calendar has three parts:
1. NFL Offseason workout programs
The first few weeks of the OTA window are strength and conditioning. Players lift weights, perform runs. Injured players are monitored on their rehabilitation and are limited to certain activities.
2. Learning the NFL playbook
According to former NFL coach Jon Gruden, there are hundreds of plays in a typical playbook. Teams select between 75 and 100 pass plays and 15 to 20 run plays when assembling a particular week's game plan.
Playbooks and terminology vary from team to team. Systems take a while to learn if players change systems, so imagine the challenge for new drafted players and free agents changing teams.
So, while OTA's are voluntary, the implicit incentive for new players and players who want to play come the new season is to attend. Typically, only free agents who have not signed or players renegotiating contracts will skip Spring team activities.
Teams in OTA are limited to the amount of full contact activity, per the collective bargaining agreement. In fact, in 2022, the Washington Commanders and Coach Ron Rivera were fined by the NFL for exceeding contact drills to gain a competitive edge.
3. Low intensity contact and mandatory minicamps
As the OTA window closes, teams can schedule up to 10 days of full non-contact practice. While no tackling and full speed blocking is allowed, teams can line-up and engage each other to practice plays.
Veterans Minicamp: teams can schedule up to 4 days of mandatory practice. With few caveats, all signed players are required to attend. These mandatory practices do not allow heavy contact, but provide the initial feedback to coaches on how the new team will perform.
New coaches get more time
Teams with new new coaches are allowed an additional voluntary veterans minicamp to help install new playbooks and new systems. In 2022, eight clubs will hold voluntary veteran minicamps.
Rules for additional voluntary veteran minicamp:
- Must be conducted prior to the NFL Draft
- No earlier than week three of the club’s offseason workout program
- After at least one week of the two weeks of Phase One activities
When a disgruntled player wants to renegotiate his contract or wants out of his contract period, he sometimes sends a less-than-subtle sign by not attending an OTA.
While attending OTAs is not mandatory according to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and players’ union, teams, fans and even some players tend to look down upon other players who fail to attend an OTA.
Sample Spring OTA Schedule
- First Day: April 18
- OTA Offseason Workouts: May 23-24, May 26, June 1-3, June 13-14, June 16-17
- Mandatory Minicamp: June 7-9
- Players will begin the off-season workout program on April 18, with OTAs beginning at the end of May.
- First Day: April 11
- Voluntary Minicamp: April 25-27
- OTA Offseason Workouts: May 23-24, May 26, May 31-June 1, June 3, June 6-7, June 9-10
- Mandatory Minicamp: June 13-15
- First Day: April 18
- OTA Offseason Workouts: May 24-25, June 1-2, June 6-7, June 9-10
- Mandatory Minicamp: June 14-16
James Roland started writing professionally in 1987. A former reporter and editor with the "Sarasota Herald-Tribune," he currently oversees such publications as the "Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor" and UCLA's "Healthy Years." Roland earned his Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Oregon.