Regardless of whether the ACL in Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee’s knee snapped before or after he was blocked during a non-contact offseason NFL practice session by rookie first-rounder Zack Martin, the moment proved once again that non-contact offseason NFL practice sessions routinely entail contact.
While the block may have gone unnoticed if Lee hadn’t been injured, the outcome necessarily puts the incident on the radar screen of the NFL and the NFLPA union.
The league hasn’t said that the Cowboys specifically will be investigated. Instead, the NFL’s position is that every team can and will be investigated, at any time.
“Our office routinely checks off-season workout programs to ensure compliance with the rules by all clubs,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement initially provided to the Associated Press and forwarded to PFT.
The NFLPA has not yet addressed the situation. Per a source familiar with the union’s standard procedures, they take action in response to complaints from players and/or inquiries from the media. If the NFLPA has concerns, the issue will be raised with the league. Obviously egregious infractions are simple; the situation is addressed and discipline if any is imposed. A resolution becomes more challenging where a dispute emerges between the league and the union regarding whether and to what extent the rules were violated.
While contact of some sort remains inevitable in offseason workouts, a specific instance that appears to exceed the bright-line “no live contact” rules of the labor deal invites either an inquiry from the league or a complaint to the league from the NFLPA.
In this case, it won’t be a surprise if the union initiates an inquiry. Merely doing so will put all teams on notice that, even if it’s impossible to keep guys who are trying to win jobs, keep jobs, rise up the depth chart, and/or hold their current rung on the ladder from treating football practice like, you know, football practice, a conscientious effort must be made to keep live contact out of offseason workouts.