Once, voluntary offseason workouts actually were voluntary. At some point, however, these practices became “voluntary” in name only.
But the NFL and its 32 teams still use the label. Which makes it refreshing when a player chooses to take advantage of that outdated description.
In Philadelphia, newly-signed cornerback Cary Williams has opted not to show up for optional practices, arriving only recently. And when he showed up, Williams ended up not in the starting lineup.
“That’s what Coach [Chip Kelly] wants, that’s what he’s doing, and that’s fine with me,” Williams said, via Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s just one of those things where I missed a couple of weeks, guys have been here, and Coach has given them an opportunity. And that’s fine. OTAs are OTAs. When we get the pads on, it’s a different thing.”
Per Berman, Kelly attributed Williams’ absence from the first week of OTAs to his wedding and honeymoon. Williams, however, said he had other issues to deal with, including building a house and dental work.
“Just because it was OTAs doesn’t mean I need to derail my plans for a situation like that,” Williams said. “Not being disrespectful. Everybody has their own personal life and things to take care of. And in my life, I have something to take care of, and I felt that was important. . . . As far as I’m concerned, I did what was more important to me at the time, and family is the most important thing.”
The problem for Williams and anyone else who misses offseason practice — for whatever reason — comes from the possible creation of a gap that may never be bridged. Last year, for example, Rams second-round running back Isaiah Pead fell behind due to the outdated rule that prevents players from joining offseason workouts until their colleges complete final exams. Pead landed behind seventh-rounder Daryl Richardson on the depth chart, and Pead never was able to pass him.
While Williams is confident that “the cream will rise to the top” once padded practices begin in training camp, there are now fewer opportunities for that to happen, because there are fewer padded practices. It can happen for Williams or anyone else who misses offseason workouts, but he’s taking a calculated risk that he won’t be able to unseat someone who chose to show up for voluntary practices.
That’s Williams’ prerogative. And as long as the NFL continues to try to call these practices “voluntary,” we support anyone who chooses to stay home — as long as he realizes that it could in some cases mean staying on the sidelines come September.