Despite compromises between players and clubs about the nature of spring workouts, there is still one gap in the offseason. That concerns protections for players who are working out on their own. This came under the spotlight after former Denver Broncos tackle Ja’Wuan James suffered a season-ending injury while working with an independent trainer.
The team put him on the Non-Football Injury List and subsequently released him, and is expected not to honor the more than $10 million in compensation he would have been owed in ‘guaranteed’ money, with the argument that the guarantee for injury only covers those sustained while working with the club.
Many players and the NFLPA itself has said that they are closely monitoring that situation and how it develops. Each team handles such injuries on an individual basis. Cameron Heyward told reporters earlier today that he believes the Pittsburgh Steelers have a better track record in that regard, but also feels that the broader issue should be addressed.
“It wasn’t really negotiated. I do know there’s been a history with the Steelers, [that] if a guy’s gotten hurt, they’ve tried to honor it, for the most part”, he told reporters earlier today following the team’s first OTA session, when asked if there was a concession reached between the players and the team regarding injury protections.
“It’s beyond me that we’re training outside of the facility for our jobs and can’t get covered for injuries”, he added. “I think that’s one thing that needs to be addressed soon, because I think at the end of the day, we’re all just working towards one goal, and you shouldn’t be penalized if you’re out, anywhere, just trying to work on your game”.
One of the hot topics in the NFL this offseason has been about the very nature of the offseason itself, and specifically about the extent to which players should be expected to participate in in-person workouts and practices. Most of the activities in the spring are regarded as voluntary. Yet players who choose not to participate can often be stigmatized for not doing so, in a variety of ways.
Groups of players representing more than half of the teams in the league issued statements last month through the NFLPA stating that they would be exercising their rights not to participate. Yet early reports indicate that the vast majority of teams have had relatively high attendance rates of about 75 percent or better, including the Steelers.
One can’t help but wonder if the James injury had a significant influence on the minds of many players who ultimately chose to show up. Many teams might be forgiving as it concerns injuries while training during March or April, but less so if they are skipping voluntary workouts to do their own thing. That could have scared some players into showing up.
It will be interesting to see how or if the topic of player independent training injury protections goes addressed over the course of the next few months, as the union continues to try to stake ground in the offseason landscape in favor of its constituents.