To get in shape for a season that might not happen or to play it safe and not risk injury? That is the dilemma players across the NFL are facing in one of the strangest offseasons the league has ever seen.
Usually at this time of year, teams would be getting together for offseason activities to stay sharp and prepare for the upcoming campaign. But with no OTAs scheduled and players not allowed to visit club facilities while the lockout is in full effect, those who bring the nation to its television sets on fall Sundays are trying to find a way to replicate minicamps without breaking any rules. The result? Player-organized workouts free of coaches and team officials.
These programs are something many players around the league have already begun. The Dolphins, for instance, have gathered for workouts led by OT Jake Long and QB Chad Henne. QB Philip Rivers has organized weightlifting and running sessions for the Chargers. And Titans CB Cortland Finnegan has rallied his teammates to train together at a local high school. In the cutthroat NFL, no player wants to risk coming to training camp — whenever that gets under way — out of condition and being handed a pink slip.
Considering the circumstances, however, is this really the smartest move on the players' part? One of the results of the Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring is that the players lost their health insurance and are now no longer covered under team policy. If one of them were to get hurt seriously during these sessions, he could be subject to having his pay withheld for the 2011 season.
"If a guy works out right now and suffers an injury, he's not covered by his NFL contract during this lockout. So if you get injured, the team doesn't have to pay your salary next year," agent Drew Rosenhaus told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "It's not a sanctioned activity, so if a guy goes out there and blows his knee, the team can say they've decided not to pay your contract this year. It's very risky."
Given this potential for disaster, many agents are telling their clients not to participate in these activities — and they couldn't be more right. Why should players put their livelihood at stake for owners who have locked them out? In the big picture, they have little to gain by conducting player-only workouts, but they have a whole lot to lose. For guys on teams with new coaches or coordinators, they don't even have a playbook to consult when practicing. And if they go down, their employers are going to have nothing to offer them in terms of consolation.
Sure, it's admirable that players are willing to put quite a bit on the line for the betterment of themselves and their organizations, but especially at this juncture, it just isn't worth it. Practicing with teammates without supervision — in March, mind you — is not smart, period. The odds of someone suffering an injury become much greater when guys are playing football, even casually, without a person in charge who knows what he is doing. That is what will be going on around the country in the months to come, and I wouldn't blame one player for refusing to take part in it.
If players do want to work out on their own this offseason, the most reasonable way to do so would be to attend a facility that specializes in training athletes. Yes, it will be more costly than meeting up at a high school, but these are professional football players we're talking about — they can afford it. These facilities not only provide trainers and coaches to oversee the activities but also have physicians on site in case an injury was to occur. Groups of teammates would be decreasing their risk immensely if they take this approach over doing things on their own.
No matter whose side you are on in this never-ending fight between the players and owners, this much is clear: When the season does begin, you don't want to see your favorite player on the sideline because he hurt himself running around with the guys in the spring. Hopefully players realize the danger they are putting themselves in and wise up before one of them goes down, losing a year's paycheck for an owner who is more interested in money than the good of the game.