I argue every year that draft picks should refuse to participate in practice before signing their rookie contracts. So, in theory, I fully supported the refusal of Browns safety Jabrill Peppers to not sign a participation agreement that would have allowed him to practice at the team’s rookie minicamp on Friday.
But the situation with Peppers contained a unique distinction from most incoming rookies. For players like Peppers (and 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster) who failed a drug test at the Scouting Combine and who therefore face enhanced drug testing once they show up for work, it makes sense to point out that, by refusing to sign a participation agreement and by not having a contract in place, Peppers avoided the commencement of formal NFL drug testing.
Regardless of that wrinkle, Peppers surely had a reason for not signing a document that every draft pick without a contract has signed since Shawne Merriman refused to do it in 2005. That reason has not been specifically articulated, however.
The potential reasons are limited to a handful of possibilities: (1) Peppers wanted his rookie contract and refused to work without it; (2) Peppers hoped to avoid drug testing; or (3) Peppers blindly followed advice from his agents that was provided to him without explanation.
Based on Peppers’ comments to the media from Saturday, Option No. 3 seems to be the winner.
After making it clear to reporters that he wanted to practice on Friday, Peppers said he communicated to his agents that he wants to sign the document and practice.
“Absolutely,” Pepper said. “I definitely think that was part of the reason they got it squared away for me today. You pay them for a reason for things like that. They handle the business aspect of it. I just try to perform my best on the field. . . . You do hire an agent for a reason for things like that. It sucks, but at the end of the day, this is my profession now so some things come with the job.”
Peppers separately rejected Option No. 2.
“That is your speculation,” Peppers said regarding the potential desire to avoid drug testing. “I don’t know why you think of me like that, but everyone is entitled to an opinion. What you think of me is no skin off my teeth. I am not worried about anything but being the best football player and person I can be.”
It’s nothing personal against Peppers, who later told reporters to “[s]top asking questions about” the drug testing angle. It’s simply an assessment of the circumstances. And with still no precise reason provided for Peppers joining an extremely short list of draft picks to refuse to sign a participation agreement, it’s fair to wonder why the agreement wasn’t signed on Friday, and why things changed so sharply in one day.