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RoethlisBURGHer
05-28-2008, 07:16 PM
http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news;_ylt=Av.9_r51puKRcuGf1egCd5tDubYF?slug=ms-thegameface052308&prov=yhoo&type=lgns

He stayed up all night in a Miami bowling alley, knocking down pins and hustling friends. Then, after a brief power nap, Edgerrin James hit the streets of South Beach, determined to milk every ounce of fun out of Urban Fashion Weekend.
This was the tiring existence I enjoyed in the days and nights leading up to Memorial Day of 2001: Trailing James, then a 22-year-old star halfback for the Indianapolis Colts, as he went from club to party to yacht while reporting a feature story for Sports Illustrated.

It wasn't until I returned home to California that I discovered we'd actually been making news. While hosting me in Miami, James had neglected to attend a Colts minicamp being held in Indy that weekend. Though the minicamp wasn't mandatory, his absence had provoked critical public comments from quarterback Peyton Manning and coach Jim Mora, and now I had to call James to get his response.

"Hell, I only went to college for 2 years," James said. "But I think I know the meaning of the word voluntary."

James is a funny dude, but seven years later, the rebuke faced by players who exercise their right not to attend such workouts is no laughing matter. In fact, the mere depiction of minicamps, OTAs (organized team activities) and passing camps as "voluntary" is the biggest joke of all.

Here we are in late May, more than two months before most teams will report for training camp, and look at all the NFL coaches (and other poobahs) who have their khaki spandex shorts in a bunch:

In Cincinnati, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis essentially confirmed that last Monday's release of Odell Thurman was related to the troubled linebacker's failure to attend the team's first official offseason workout, a move which would violate the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and NFL Players' Association. Thurman cited the death of his grandmother as an excuse for his absence, but Lewis told reporters last Wednesday, "His grandmother's been buried for quite awhile now We've been patient enough with Odell, and he's no longer here." It's exceedingly difficult for me to adopt the position of defending Thurman, a former second-round draft choice who has habitually screwed up like few other players of his generation. That said, he ought to be able to file a grievance against the Bengals and win if he was indeed released for skipping voluntary activities.

In Miami, Bill Parcells, the Dolphins' executive vice president of football operations, reportedly was so angry at star defensive end Jason Taylor for appearing on "Dancing With The Stars" rather than joining his teammates in OTAs that last month he refused to speak to the '06 NFL defensive player of the year when Taylor paid a quick visit to the team's training facility. The situation has since worsened, as Miami coach Tony Sparano told reporters Wednesday that Taylor plans to skip all team activities (voluntary or otherwise) between now and the start of the regular season. But Parcells' snub obviously didn't help facilitate a potentially less contentious resolution.

In Arizona, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt took a milder approach last Tuesday, saying he was "disappointed" that wideout Anquan Boldin and defensive lineman Darnell Dockett had chosen not to report to the team's voluntary practice sessions. Both players reportedly are unhappy with their contracts, seemingly putting them in a group that includes Bills tackle Jason Peters, Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. and Saints defensive end Will Smith other players who've caused a stir recently by staying away from voluntary workouts.

This is what passes for NFL news in late spring, as fans join coaches in fretting over various players' failure to attend practices that, by definition, are supposed to be relaxed in nature. For example, there are severe restrictions on the amount of contact that is allowed, something that might be news to the two Browns players cornerback Daven Holly (severe left knee injury) and wideout Braylon Edwards (hip pointer) who got hurt on a single play last Tuesday.

Just as the NFLPA seldom protests the undue contact, the union rarely utters a peep about the players who lose their standing or, in some cases, their jobs for skipping voluntary workouts. The union's attitude seems to be this: As long as the head coach is the one making lineup (and, in some cases, roster) decisions, lack of performance can always be cited when a player falls out of favor. Even when the NFLPA might suspect that the decision to demote or cut a player is based on his absence from voluntary offseason workouts, proving it is difficult, and in most cases the union doesn't even bother.

I realize that for most of you, it's hard to have much sympathy for the players. They command relatively large salaries while most of their mandatory workload is concentrated into six months. For that reason, even those fans who don't have a knee-jerk pro-management bent aren't especially inclined to take up their cause.

Yeah, I know what many of you are thinking: If someone paid me that kind of money for playing a game, I'd do whatever the boss wanted me to.

But would you really? Close your eyes and pretend you have a great job with a fat salary, and now imagine that the boss asks you to come in for a 14-day voluntary training workshop because he or she feels it will help the company. The additional pay will be minimal, the boss explains, but just think of the satisfaction you'll derive from making the company better.

Pretend, for argument's sake, that your performance ratings have been consistently high and that you know precisely how to prepare for the next big project you and your co-workers will be assigned to tackle. But this is your down time, and you were hoping to hit the beach or the golf course or take the kids to soccer practice or simply lay around and do nothing at all.

At 6:30 the next morning, the alarm clock rings. Still up for that voluntary workshop?

Look, I'm not saying offseason training sessions don't have value. Over the years, enough coaches and players have cited them as a source of team's success, be it because of the actual work that occurred or the bonding that went along with it, that I assume they can be helpful.

For that reason, my position is not that these workouts should be abolished. Instead, I'd call them what they really are: Mandatory, full-contact, offseason practice sessions. And then I'd have the league and the NFLPA sit down at the bargaining table and agree on a set number of practices and a pay scale in line with the importance teams place on them.

Will this happen in time to prevent the players who skip next spring's OTAs from getting the Thurman/Taylor/James treatment? It's not likely. But given that the owners just unanimously voted to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement following the 2010 season, this is one of many issues that should be resolved as a new deal is negotiated.

In the meantime, one of my editors has volunteered to give me next week off. I haven't decided whether to take him up on it, but I've got a pretty good idea which way I'm leaning.

I agree that the NFL should just change this stuff to mandatory full-contact off-season practice. If the coaches and teams feel it's that important for guys to be there, then it should just be mandatory.

Odell Thurman should have not been released for not attending the "voluntary" Bengals workouts that he skipped to be with his family after his Grandmother's death. And the "she's been buried for a while now" comment was really classless by Marvin Lewis.

I have no problem with the way Ken Whisenhut handled his situation with Boldin and Dockett. I would imagine that he is dissapointed in them for not showing up. They are key cogs to the teams success.

And the Steelers have the Troy Polamalu situation, which isn't mentioned in the above article. Why is that? Because the team essentially gave him permission to go do his own thing. He did it the right way and went to managment and told them he'd prefer to work out on his own. He knows they can't (and won't) bench/cut him if he just doesn't show, but he let his feelings be known and discussed it with the Steelers.

steelwall
05-28-2008, 07:37 PM
If you're going to say something is "voluntary" then certainly there will be guys who given the opton won't come. No big suprise.

Preacher
05-28-2008, 09:21 PM
I think the article is a bit misleading.

If a player chooses to not come to OTA, because he is busting his rear end in another state working on some things... (troy, anyone?) then there usually isn't much of a problem.

It is when those type of issues are used to send a secondary message... such as, "Restructure my contract" or "Screw the new system, I am good enough" that there are real issues.

When players are at the TOP of their game, they get more leverage to do what they want anyway. It is those who have to PROVE what they can do that really should be there... much like having to PROVE to management that you are good enough to miss the training session.

steelwall
05-28-2008, 10:29 PM
I think the article is a bit misleading.

If a player chooses to not come to OTA, because he is busting his rear end in another state working on some things... (troy, anyone?) then there usually isn't much of a problem.

It is when those type of issues are used to send a secondary message... such as, "Restructure my contract" or "Screw the new system, I am good enough" that there are real issues.

When players are at the TOP of their game, they get more leverage to do what they want anyway. It is those who have to PROVE what they can do that really should be there... much like having to PROVE to management that you are good enough to miss the training session.

Agreed here....

I allso have no problems with proven veterans doing their own work outs it's the lowwer level players, or younger players which should be attending every practise.

HughC
05-30-2008, 05:50 PM
I agree that it's in a new (rookie or free agent) player's best interest to attend OTA's in order to learn the system but I also think a player should not be cut for missing a "voluntary" session. The fact that the NFLPA doesn't say anything tells me how weak they are. Just make them mandatory for new players and voluntary for everyone else.