Offseason must be handled with care

Maybe he was playing hoops. Maybe he wasn't. But no matter how Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon in April -- either preparing for an upcoming conditioning drill, as Suggs maintains, or playing in a basketball tournament, as ESPN's Adam Schefter reports -- this much is true: For players in the National Football League, the offseason isn't really theirs to do as they please. Too much is at stake.

They don't have to live in a bubble, but they do have to be smart and limit the opportunities for things to go awry. Don't get on a motorcycle, especially without a helmet. Don't go waterskiing. Don't go skydiving. And please, for God's sake, don't go running with the bulls in Pamplona. Save that for retirement. It will be here sooner than they think.

Now, sadly, maybe basketball, as popular as it is among NFL players, needs to be added to the do-not-try list.

There is so much that someone in his 20s still can't see, particularly someone who is strong, athletically gifted and rich. The NFL offseason isn't a time to suspend your common sense. Just because you aren't tethered to a team's rigid schedule -- meeting, meeting, walk-through, lunch, practice, meeting -- doesn't mean your world becomes like Vegas, where there are no rules and everything that happens there stays there.

You have to be prudent. You have to be careful. And you have to try your hardest not to put yourself in a position to get injured. Limit the risk. Protect yourself. Respect your team and your teammates. That applies to top-tier players like Suggs as well as to the 53rd man on a roster, who is one serious injury from never again putting on an NFL uniform. It might not seem like it at the time, but there will be plenty of time to lace up the sneakers and ball at the gym.

There is standard language in NFL contracts that prohibits players from partaking in certain activities in the offseason, not that players necessarily listen. Many employ the philosophy of it's better to ask for forgiveness than for permission. I get it. Live and let live.

But look at Suggs. He is out for a significant period of time. He told the Baltimore Sun earlier this week that he plans on being back by November, but it is probable he won't be back to the Suggs who terrorized quarterbacks and was the NFL's defensive MVP last season until 2013, if ever. His team was one completion from playing in the Super Bowl last season and, with virtually the same team back, has expectations to get there this time.

Suggs was supposed to be a big part of that. Ray Lewis might set the tone for that defense, but he doesn't sizzle like Suggs, who had 14 sacks, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions last season.

If he tossed that aside to play a little hoops, was it worth it? Was it worth letting down his teammates, his coaches, his fans and his organization to show he's a baller or to simply break up the monotony of going to the gym? I can't imagine it was.

Herman "Sonny" Hoffman, the director of the Akchin Gymnasium in Maricopa, Ariz., told Schefter that Suggs "got hurt Sunday prior to the [basketball tournament] championship game. ... My staff saw the whole incident. It was the condition you'd describe for a torn Achilles. He had no movement, no step, and it swelled up right away."

Through his agent Joel Segal, Suggs denied it (again). "Simply not true," Suggs said, and he stuck with his original explanation that he injured himself preparing for an upcoming conditioning test.

Just as Justin Blackmon is a cautionary tale about how not to go about getting your rookie deal done, Suggs should be the cautionary tale about how not to blow your season before it starts. Later this month, the NFL will enter a dark period that general managers and coaches dread. Facilities are dark. Vacations are taken. Players are scattered.

Anything can happen in the weeks before the grind resumes in late July. Philadelphia defensive end Jason Babin was going to go run with the bulls in Pamplona before someone with the Eagles put his hand on his shoulder and reminded him that he has $28 million reasons to put off that activity until retirement.

Careers in the NFL are short. Save the fun stuff for retirement. Run with bulls or swim with sharks or jump out of planes when 52 other players aren't counting on you to help them win a championship. It would be wise to save the hoops for later, too.