The concept of voluntary offseason workouts generates plenty of consternation for football media and fans. Some react angrily whenever anyone points out that a player has chosen to stay away from voluntary sessions. Others believe that all players should volunteer to show up for any and every practice, voluntary or not.
For me, it’s a source of constant conflict. On one hand, I support the ability of players to choose not to be there. They’ve earned that right via collective bargaining. Indeed, I’ve argued on many occasions that, if all players were to boycott voluntary offseason drills, the NFL would immediately make a major concession at the bargaining table in order to get them to come back.
On the other hand, there’s value in working out with the team. For starters, an injury suffered when a player works out on his own, he has no financial protection. If he blow out an Achilles tendon, he doesn’t have to be paid. Conversely, if he gets injured at the facility, he’s covered.
Also, there’s value in building camaraderie, establishing relationships, and participating in a shared sacrifice — especially for players who are new to a team, like Jets running back Le'Veon Bell. He hasn’t participated in any aspect of an offseason program in at least three years; there’s real value in Bell making a statement to his new teammates, new coaches, new media, and new fans that, like most other players on the team, he’s all in.
Of course, if the Jets wanted to ensure that he’d be there, the Jets could have loaded significant workout bonuses and/or salary de-escalators into his deal, creating a financial incentive to show up. They didn’t, and Bell is now exercising his broader contractual rights to not be there.
Again, he has that right. At some point, however, it’s about building a team. It will be hard for Bell to be part of that if he’s not there, working alongside a brand new set of teammates.