DETROIT – The NFL has banned Detroit Lions players from working out Monday and Tuesday at the team's practice facility.
This is major news. Judging by their almost 50 years of futility, who knew the Lions worked out at all, let alone that the franchise had an actual building dedicated to practice?
But it's true. The Lions do have a plush, modern practice facility, where players routinely break a sweat. And not just practicing anything, but practicing actual football plays. Seriously.
In fact, according to a union grievance, since hard-nosed coach Rod Marinelli took over in January, the players have been forced to practice too hard.
The NFL Players Association and the NFL Management Council in a joint statement Friday agreed that the Lions broke rules involving offseason activities and punished the team by prohibiting two days of supervised workouts.
Booth Newspapers originally reported that players were upset that April minicamp drills – where "contact work or use of pads" is not allowed – were too physical.
"The players were upset at the high intensity and aggressiveness demanded in the team drills and believed the coaching staff was going over the line," Tom Kowalski reported, citing a source.
And so, the players complained, the union and the league agreed and now they get two days off, with pay.
On Thursday, when workouts resume, Marinelli ought to run those Cowardly Lions to Toledo and back. He just needs to make sure no one bumps someone else and cracks a nail.
Union rules for safety are good things for coal miners and construction workers and things of that sort. Workers in those lines of work should file a grievance at the first sign of trouble and they should never, ever be subject to management retribution. There are laws against that type of thing.
But this isn't the Sterling Heights Stamping Plant. This isn't an old Upper Peninsula copper mine.
Having millionaire athletes complain about too-tough workouts for a franchise that has gone a NFL-worst 21-59 over the last five seasons and routinely showed a distinct lack of toughness, competitive fire or football acumen is comical.
Predictable – heck, Detroit's defense hasn't believed in contact in years – but comical.
What kind of abuse could Marinelli possibly have subjected the players? Lifting weights at an asbestos factory? Running sprints in a rickety mine shaft? Listening to recordings of Joey Harrington playing the piano?
No one is saying for sure, but apparently blocking and tackling is now out of the question. What a surprise these guys average four wins a season.
It would be understandable if the NFL came in and punished the Lions for full-contact practices outside of the designated time, because, even for them, it would be a competitive advantage (hold the laughter).
But if the players care about winning, they should want that advantage. Instead they ratted on their own coach, and not out of some sense of fair play.
Detroit general manager Matt Millen was one tough football player – you can never envision him complaining about practice being too rough. His mantra since taking over the team has been to surround himself with people out of that mold. Based on this uprising, his judge of character is worse than his 21 measly wins would have you believe.
Millen tried to correct the franchise's perpetual softness by bringing in Marinelli, the defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who was immediately dubbed "Major Marinelli" for his drill sergeant ways. Fans who were sick of watching the sorriest excuse for a team in the NFL rejoiced at the thought – a modern-day Vince Lombardi to knock around a group whose only recent positives have come on drug tests.
Then Millen vowed this spring to only draft players who were "hungry" to play football. That was a departure from previous selections who just had the munchies, which is an entirely different thing he found out.
Unfortunately, at least one of those vets decided that not only is playing football rather overwhelming, but practicing football is, too. If only George Plimpton could write his book now; he'd be starting at middle linebacker.
Lombardi has to be rolling in his grave, Bear Bryant must be beside himself and Chris Spielman is probably alone in a darkened room, weeping over what has become of his old team.
We're talking about practice?
Not on Monday or Tuesday for the Lions. Expect business to be brisk at area manicure shops.
- Rod Marinelli