Do OTAs, or voluntary workouts, serve any real purpose or is it time for the NFL to do away with them?
With the close of NFL OTAs, we continue to inch closer and closer to the start of the NFL regular season. These OTAs are voluntary workouts, and they've become a rather heated topic of debate lately, bringing about the question of whether the NFL should do away with them.
Either way you look at voluntary workouts, it's hard to see the benefits outweighing the negatives they could potentially have on an NFL franchise. The two biggest pitfalls of OTAs are injuries, and players not showing up.
Today we will look at both of these pitfalls and determine a way the NFL can successfully deal with them, so they no longer cause problems to teams.
What is the Purpose of OTAs?
Before we begin solving issues, we first need to establish the overall purpose of OTAs. These workouts are mainly designed for coaches to get an early look at players and to start building some team chemistry.
However, is there really that much benefit? Every single player looks great during voluntary workouts. They are all in perfect shape, they are all light years ahead of where they were last year and every player is poised for a breakout season.
Take this tweet from Adam Schefter of ESPN on San Francisco 49ers' wide receiver A.J. Jenkins:
Jim Harbaugh on WR AJ Jenkins: "A.J. had his best week of football since he’s been a 49er the last four days of OTAs."— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 11, 2013
Does the fact that Jenkins had his best week of practice mean that he's poised for a breakout season? Absolutely not.
For starters, voluntary workouts are as far from actual game situations as possible. There is little, if any, actual contact and few players are giving full effort during these sessions.
While it's hard to argue that there are benefits to a team getting out on the football field together, those benefits are decreasing year after year.
Now that we've determined that there really is little to no purpose for having voluntary activities, we'll get to the biggest issue: injuries.
Already this year we've seen a number of minor and significant injuries to key players. From running back Arian Foster being carted off the field with a calf injury to wide receiver Michael Crabtree completely tearing his Achilles, OTAs can absolutely cripple a team.
Take Crabtree as a perfect example. The receiver had established himself as quarterback Colin Kaepernick's favorite target during the 2012 season, as Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle so wonderfully points out:
Targets in Colin Kaepernick’s 10 starts in 2012: 1. Michael Crabtree 94; T2. Vernon Davis 39, T2. Randy Moss 39. #49ers— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) May 22, 2013
For Kaepernick to lose the player he targeted nearly three times more than any other on his roster is a huge blow. Sure, he still has tight end Vernon Davis and wide receiver Anquan Boldin, but losing Crabtree will certainly impact Kaepernick's play negatively in 2013.
Let's take this even further. What would happen if a player like quarterback Tom Brady was to get hurt during OTAs? Could you even imagine the uproar by fans demanding that voluntary practices be made inactive?
While an extremely serious and season-changing injury like that hasn't happened, it doesn't mean that it won't. Cutting out these workouts completely would be the only way to ensure no injuries occur, but this may not be the best option.
The other pitfall of having voluntary workouts in the NFL is that there are always going to be players who don't want to volunteer to work out before they absolutely need to.
Every year we see players not showing up for voluntary workouts, and the media going absolutely crazy about it. This year those players were wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz of the New York Giants.
Both players were absent for the Giants' OTAs for reasons most likely dealing with money. However, Bleacher Report's own Aaron Nagler sums up the situation concerning Nicks and Cruz beautifully:
There is way, way, way, way too much being made of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks missing OTAs. Way too much. Way, way, way. Too much.— Aaron Nagler (@Aaron_Nagler) June 6, 2013
The only thing the media was concerned about surrounding the Giants' voluntary workouts was the absence of Cruz and Nicks. The reality is neither player being absent is going to make a huge impact on the outcome of the 2013 season for the Giants.
What should the NFL do with voluntary workouts?
The way the NFL can correct this issue would be to remove the word voluntary. If they made these workouts mandatory, teams could actually focus on what they came to the field for instead of having to deal with the headaches surrounding missing players.
Whether the NFL decides to completely do away with voluntary workouts to save from injuries, or to do away with them by making it mandatory for players to be there, they have to do something about the current setup of this specific offseason program.
It is ruining the overall product, and that's the last thing the NFL wants.