MAQB: What the NFLPA Should Have Learned From Michael Jordan's Old Contracts (Really)

While NFL players and their teams fight over offseason work, we can look to a workaround from a legend in another sport entirely. Plus, the Broncos' historic hire, tough news for Ryquell Armstead, a new team for Ryan Kerrigan and more.
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Veterans are hitting the field now, and that’s where we’ll start this week’s column …

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• In my morning column, we took you through the latest in the NFL-NFLPA fight over the offseason program, and there was a quote in there where we had union president and Browns center J.C. Tretter explaining how, really, it’s not just now during the nine-week offseason program that players are exposed to risk working out under the NFI rules—it’s the full run of the 29-week offseason. And in reaction to that, I had an agent who knows this stuff well point out to me how the NBA’s union got protection for its guys. It actually dates back decades, and links to the old “Love of the Game” clause that Michael Jordan had put in his Bulls contracts. The romanticized story was that it was in there so Jordan could crush people in pickup. The functional value of it, though, was protecting a guy who was maniacal about working at his craft. Here’s the eventual language that wound up becoming standard in NBA contracts:

By agreeing upon provisions (to be set forth in Exhibit 5 to a Uniform Player Contract) permitting the player to participate or engage in some or all of the activities otherwise prohibited by paragraph 12 of the Uniform Player Contract; provided, however, that no amendment to paragraph 12 of the Uniform Player Contract shall permit a player to participate in any public game or public exhibition of basketball not approved in accordance with Article XXIII of this Agreement.

And then …

Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 12 of this Contract, the Player and the Team agree that the Player need not obtain the consent of the Team in order to engage in the activities set forth below:

a) To play, practice, demonstrate, or instruct basketball in connection with a basketball camp or clinic; or

b) To participate in off-season basketball games, pick-up games, or any weight training, running or other individual or group conditioning exercises which do not unreasonably endanger Player's health or safety. Player and Team acknowledge that the foregoing list of activities for which Player need not obtain Team's consent shall not include, among other things, any activities where (i) admission is charged for any off-season game (other than for a charity game or event that has been approved by the NBA for NBA player participation), (ii) Player receives any compensation for playing in an off- season basketball game, or (iii) score is kept or officials are used.

After that, there’s language prohibiting (there’s a lot here) sky diving, hang gliding, snow skiing, rock or mountain climbing (as distinguished from hiking), water or jet skiing, whitewater rafting, rappelling, bungee jumping, trampoline jumping and mountain biking; any fighting, boxing or wrestling; using fireworks or participating in any activity involving firearms or other weapons; riding on electric scooters or hoverboards; driving or riding on a motorcycle or moped or four-wheeling or off-roading of any kind; riding in or on any motorized vehicle in any kind of race or racing contest; or operating an aircraft of any kind.

So here you see where the NBA and its union came to a reasonable compromise, one that penalizes guys for getting hurt in an irresponsible way, but takes care of them if they’re responsibly preparing to do their jobs and wind up injured. Given the amount of training that goes into playing football, and the nature of the sport, I think it’s fair to say that the union should’ve gotten this protection in contracts a long, long time ago—particularly when you consider there really isn’t a good argument the NFL could give for withholding it from players (other than “because we can”). But now that the form the offseason has taken has turned into turf for another fight, I’d think the owners might take a harder line on that, as ridiculous as it might seem.

• The result of the aforementioned fight, as we mentioned this morning, was a modified version of the offseason program for some teams. The Colts, for example, are going to a two-week model which will have the players done by Memorial Day Weekend. This week will be Phase II rules, next week we’ll be Phase III-ish—with all 11-on-11 work done at a walkthrough pace. And Indy won’t have a mandatory minicamp. The Cardinals are another team that shaved on-field work down. They’ll have a minicamp, but just three OTA practices for the veterans (which led to a good turnout on Monday). The Bengals will go with the normal schedule, but are eliminating all full-speed 11-on-11 drills—team drills held at a walkthrough pace will replace those. The Chargers are another team that’ll do individuals and strength-and-conditioning at full speed, and take 11-on-11 work down to walkthroughs. All these conditions were negotiated by the players and coaches, which I have to think is a positive as these teams try to get on the same page working toward the season. Plus, getting to see some of this stuff unfold could give us an idea on the importance of all this spring work—in maybe how one team’s rookies play compared to another’s, or how this team vs. that team comes out of the gate in September.

• And one more thing, while we’re here: The NFL-NFLPA negotiations over the offseason program are officially dead (which is why the players and coaches had to take the baton), but there’s another big discussion ongoing between those parties. And that concerns training camp, and it’s not just to what degree COVID-19 protocols should be instituted under our country’s improving conditions (though that’s on the table, too). Players are also fighting to make the ramp-up period they had last year permanent. Tretter told me he didn’t get the benefit of that COVID-influenced new feature to camp, because he was coming off surgery, but he has talked to plenty of players about it. “They loved the ramp-up,” he said. “They all said they felt better, and way more prepared going into the season. For me, it was how I came out of the season, what I felt like under the new rules. And honestly, I felt the best I’d felt in more than five years. I was healthy, and ready to get right back into training. I didn’t have to rest my body the same way, and I felt mentally fresh. And that was the common anecdote from guys, they just felt better. It’s tough to tell a guy after that, you shouldn’t feel better. We all know how taxing COVID was, so that so many guys feel good coming off that year shows how much of a change it was.”

• Good to see Broncos GM George Paton’s importing his old Viking coworker Kelly Kleine to be Denver’s new executive director of football operations. I know Minnesota GM Rick Spielman wanted to keep Kleine, but the opportunity professionally and personally was too good in Denver. Kleine worked in both college and pro scouting, and served as a sort of hub of the college scouting side for the GM. During this particular draft cycle, she was in part responsible for, and became an advocate of, North Dakota State QB Trey Lance. And in making the move she’ll actually wind up with another player she stumped for with the Vikings—Wisconsin-Whitewater OL Quinn Meinerz, taken in the third round by Denver. So there’s of course the history being made here, with Kleine ascending into a role a woman’s never held for an NFL team. But Paton wouldn’t be doing it if he didn’t think she was worthy, and the people in Minnesota can affirm she is.

• It’s also worth mentioning that the Vikings will continue to be progressive in scouting going forward, with three women continuing to rise through the department. Taylor Young is in line for a postdraft promotion to manager of football administration (she’s No. 2 to chief contract negotiator Rob Brzezinski), Kaitlin Zarecki is being elevated into Kleine’s old spot as manager of player development/special assistant to the GM, and intern Caroline DeFelice is being hired as a player personnel assistant.

• You have to feel horrible for Jaguars RB Ryquell Armstead. The 24-year-old’s 2020 season was basically taken away due to COVID-19 (he did two stints on the COVID-19 list, due to complications) after a promising rookie campaign. And on Wednesday, with Jacksonville deep at his position, the team let go of the former fifth-round pick. The pandemic may have, in effect, ended his career.

• One thing teams do get in rookie minicamp, and especially this year with no combine, or private workouts and visits, is perspective on the size of their class. And I can say in a year when the Bengals felt like they needed it, the coaches in Cincinnati really liked the way a crew of three offensive line and four defensive line rookies looked on the hoof out there. Second-round pick Jackson Carman moved around well and made a good first impression, but the raw length of defensive end Joseph Ossai and overall size of defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin really stood out.

• Ryan Kerrigan is an interesting add for new Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon. While, on paper, you’d look at him and think that he’d bring the Seattle-ish scheme that Indy DC Matt Eberflus runs, there’s still a lot of Mike Zimmer influence there. And Zimmer very much values pass-rushers who have some versatility, so he can be creative with them. At his height, that’s what Kerrigan was. At 32, even having some of that left could help Gannon bring his vision for the defense to life. (For what it’s worth, here’s one pro scouting director’s take on what Kerrigan has left: “Not much. Thought he was very close to the end last year even with play time cut back. Sometimes those type guys have one decent last year with a new team.”

• It was good to see Jon Gruden say “Derek Carr is very underestimated” Monday. I do think it’s true, too. He played really well last year. And given some of the attrition in Vegas, I’m sure Gruden knows the Raiders will need him to be even better in 2021.

• I’m gonna throw the flag on myself: I left Chris Long’s United Airlines tweet at Mark Ingram out of the Best of the Internet section in my column this morning. Gotta be better than that. Full apology to Chris for the oversight.

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