The Redskins had a star player miss organized team activity sessions and didn’t do anything. The New England Patriots had a player show up late because of a canceled flight and kept him out of the voluntary workouts for two weeks.
Which method is right?
New England corner Malcolm Butler is an ascending player whose star skyrocketed when he intercepted a pass at the goal line to clinch the Super Bowl and elevate himself to a household name forever in New England. If coach Bill Belichick was looking for a way to remind Butler of what he still must accomplish, this is a good way to do so. And, as my colleague Mike Reiss pointed out, it’s also a good way to let younger players know what’s expected.
But another point: If the OTAs are that important in terms of learning, how does it help to keep a guy off the field for two weeks? Seems like a case of reminding everyone who’s the boss. Also, can you really discipline someone for a voluntary activity?
DeSean Jackson is not Butler. He’s a proven player and has been for a while. Teammates know what to expect from him; coaches know he’ll be ready. I’m guessing his habits haven’t changed in a few years. The several Redskins I spoke to did not have a problem with Jackson missing. Former Redskin Brian Mitchell was adamant it didn’t matter. Few were as dedicated as Mitchell, who took himself from a fifth-round choice to a guy whose name is at least debated for the Hall of Fame. So when he says that, it resonates. Jackson ended up missing four of the 10 workouts, none of which will be remembered if he produces during the season.
However, it’s not just about missing a workout or two, it’s about the commitment and dedication. I remember talking to Darrell Green once upon a time late in Marty Schottenheimer’s first season. He recalled a conversation with Schottenheimer after his hiring when Green told him all that he had going on off the field.
At some point it clicked with Green: the point of the conversation was to see where Green’s commitment level was to football – not his off-field business. The other stuff is great, but it doesn’t help a team win games. If a player is committed, then missing some workouts won’t matter. If he’s not, then the problem is larger than a missed OTA – or four. Jackson has a lot going on off the field these days; good for him. He just has to make sure he’s still good for the Redskins, too. If he is then we’ll see it this season. Jackson's approach isn't different than in 2014, when he went out and played as well as the Redskins had hoped.
It’s not as if the Patriots way is the only one worth emulating. But they have been rather successful operating this way and the Redskins, well, have not. Of course, they also have Tom Brady and the Redskins do not. Strong leader can get players to do things they ordinarily might not. The Redskins have had really good attendance; the Patriots have been near perfect and from what Reiss told me, it’s rare for a big-name player to miss. In the end, it's not about individual production. It must be about wins. The Redskins need to find a way to get more of the latter.