In the NFL, the word “voluntary” means “be there.” Actually, at every level of football, any team activity that the player can choose to attend or skip comes with a presumption that, if the player knows what’s good for him, he’ll be there.
(If you don’t believe that, just ask any high-school football player who decides that school work is more important that “voluntary” weightlifting sessions.)
As a result, and given the recent reduction in total offseason workouts, NFL players are expected to be there — by the teams, the coaches, the media, and the fans.
While we fully support any player who chooses to not attend, in part because of the inherent hypocrisy of calling something “voluntary” when it really isn’t, those who boycott voluntary drills need to be extremely secure in their position on the roster.
Most who do it are. Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks, who has drawn the ire of coach Tom Coughlin by not volunteering to risk offseason injury in a contract year, isn’t going to end up on the bench for skipping OTAs. Eagles cornerback Cary Williams, though less established than Nicks, is banking on separating from the competition at training camp.
In Houston, linebacker Tim Dobbins feels the same way, apparently. He has skipped the entire offseason, causing consternation among the fans and the media.
Coach Gary Kubiak is unfazed, at least outwardly.”It’s voluntary,” Kubiak said Thursday of Dobbins’ ongoing absence.
Dobbins’ agent, David Canter, has been making the media rounds regarding the player’s decision. He told 610 Sports Radio in Houston that Dobbins is serving as the general contractor for construction work he has commissioned. Canter also has declared on Twitter that Dobbins could miss all activities from April 1 through August 1 and be ready to start as of Week One.
It’s nevertheless glaring when a guy isn’t there. For the Texans, only Dobbins and Ed Reed (who is injured) are absent. Which means that, if Dobbins doesn’t bring it when camp opens, he won’t be getting the benefit of the doubt when it’s time to fill out the roster and the depth chart.
And while the labor deal prohibits teams from using the decision not to attend the voluntary portion of the offseason program against them, it’s impossible to second-guess the decisions of coaches who don’t provide a trail of evidence that would suggest bias. By staying quiet (like Kubiak and unlike Coughlin) and eventually benching or cutting marginal players who choose to skip the sessions, coaches can send a powerful message to anyone tempted to stay away in the future.
Most fans would support that. They see dedication and commitment in players showing up for 10 OTA sessions and getting paid to lift weights and do cardio, laziness and disloyalty in those who don’t.
Until the workouts become truly mandatory, pockets of players will continue to exercise their right to not attend offseason workouts. If teams don’t like it, they should tie more of a given player’s compensation to workout bonuses.