COMMENTARY | Having just concluded their first OTA (Organized Team Activities) of the offseason, the New England Patriots were missing a familiar face. According to the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe, linebacker Brandon Spikes skipped the voluntary event to train at home on his own, which could turn out to be a mistake.
While NFL OTAs aren't mandatory, players who don't participate are scrutinized. Those activities are an opportunity for teams to bond, develop workout routines and develop important things like timing and plays. Teams view them as so important that some players even have bonuses written into their contracts for attendance, but Spikes has no such clause in his pact.
The New England offseason program began April 15 with workouts, and Spikes has been absent throughout after having been a full participant last year. There has been no official reason given as to why he has chosen to work out privately instead of with his teammates.
His decision could turn out to be a big mistake because of how it may distance him from the team. Patriots.com's Andy Hart reported that besides Spikes the only other players on the Patriots' 90-man roster who were absent from the May 21 OTA practice were Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Brandon Bolden, who are all dealing with injuries.
Howe indicated that Spikes is healthy and will report to the Patriots by the start of their first minicamp, which will be held June 11-13.
There is some thought that Spikes' absence could be influenced by his desire for a new contract; whether it is a fear of injury or dissatisfaction in not having received an extension already. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract (four years, $3.2 million) that he signed with the Patriots after being selected by them in the second round of the 2010 draft out of the University of Florida. He has already gone through three representatives since the start of his career, and is likely looking to make a big score when he hits free agency.
The 25-year-old Spikes has recorded 200 tackles, one sack and an interception in 35 career games. His best season came last year, as he recorded 92 tackles in 15 games, which was good for second on the team behind fellow linebacker Jerod Mayo.
At 6'2" and 255 pounds, Spikes has excelled at physical play. However, he has been inconsistent in pass coverage and has received flak for his off-field behavior, which includes a homophobic tweet and an online sex tape.
Chemistry has always been a major component of New England teams. They have avoided bringing in some players with character flaws, and most recently cut wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, who wasn't a great fit in the locker room. Spikes could be distancing himself from the team by choosing to stay home.
Spikes figures to play a significant role for the 2013 Patriots' defense. Career back-up Dane Fletcher, who missed all of the 2012 season with a knee injury, is listed as his primary backup at middle linebacker. Additionally, outside of perhaps new safety Adrian Wilson, there is no bigger hitter in New England than the absentee linebacker.
Technically speaking, Spikes has done nothing wrong in bypassing optional team activities. On the other hand, a team sport like football isn't an environment that is very welcoming to loners and outliers.
If Spikes comes to camp healthy and in shape, and builds off his solid 2012 season, he should get a shot at a good contract while contributing to the team goal of a successful season. Undoubtedly, that would be welcomed by all parties involved.
Andrew Martin also writes for Bleacher Report, where he serves as a Featured Columnist (Boston Red Sox). He has also appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts, and written on the topics of sports and history for a number of print publications and websites.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew
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