When it comes to players skipping voluntary offseason workouts, coaches know to tiptoe around saying anything that would indicate that the voluntary offseason workouts actually aren’t voluntary.
The situation becomes a bit more complicated when a player intends to participate in offseason workouts, but misses one or more of them.
The abrupt decision of the Browns to release tackle Desmond Harrison during the team’s three-day mandatory minicamp came with a vague explanation as to the reasons for the move. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media said that Harrison “start[ed] missing or being late to responsibilities.” Since the release came after only one day of mandatory practice (and after weeks of voluntary practices) it appeared that, while the last straw came when Harrison missed the first day of mandatory minicamp, the frustration grew during the voluntary phase of the offseason program.
An article regarding Harrison in the Arizona Republic seems to support this conclusion.
“He missed a series of practices during organized team activities and according to reports, routinely showed up late for team meetings,” Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic writes. While it’s possible that the latter happened during the 2018 season, the former clearly occurred during 2019 voluntary offseason workouts.
And that raises an interesting point: Can players who plan to participate in voluntary workouts but who miss them for whatever reason have those absences counted against them? For Harrison in Cleveland, it added to the perception that Harrison can’t be relied upon, and it made the team more inclined to cut him loose when he missed the flight for the only three mandatory workdays of the offseason.
The workouts are still voluntary. But it’s abundantly clear that what players do during those workouts, and whether they show up for all of them and on time, will be a major factor in the competition that ultimately whittles the roster from 90 players to 53. Clearly, offseason habits influence the endless roster churning that has guys routinely come and go during OTAs, with players undoubtedly being cut due to perceived inadequacies in their overall performance during voluntary workouts.
So, yes, the workouts are “voluntary.” But that’s a luxury that can be exercised only by the players whose September roster spots are safe. For players No. 30 (or so) through No. 90 on the roster, not choosing to attend, failing to show up consistently while attending, and/or not performing well enough during the workouts can, and often will, get you fired.