The Denver Broncos' 2021 rookie class enter the NFL amid some strange times. Not only is the league still working to bounce back from a season rocked by a pandemic but the NFLPA is currently asking veterans to boycott voluntary OTAs.
The players' union could be angling to boycott the mandatory mini-camp that comes later this summer and only a few veterans (most of whom have serious workout bonuses at stake) have resisted the push of NFLPA leadership to skip OTAs.
Meanwhile, there have been casualties, as it were, of the NFLPA's political maneuvers and two of them have hit close to home for the Broncos. Highly-paid right tackle Ja'Wuan James — who had upwards fo $20-plus million at stake over the next two years — suffered an Achilles tear in a workout away from the team building, as well as wideout DaeSean Hamilton, who tore his ACL on Friday.
James was placed on the non-football injury list (NFI) and subsequently released. The Broncos aren't expected to pay his 2021 salary.
Amid these uncertain times the likes of Patrick Surtain II, Javonte Williams, Quinn Meinerz, and Baron Browning have arrived in the NFL as Denver's premium-round draft picks. On Friday, the team kicked off its rookie mini-camp and all eyes were on Surtain, in particular, to see if the No. 9 overall draft pick would skip the proceedings as the NFLPA hoped.
He didn't, nor did any other rookie. On Friday, the former Alabama cornerback explained why he didn't cave to NFLPA pressure and reported to UCHealth Training Center for rookie mini-camp.
“I was going to come up here and play regardless," Surtain said. "I’m a rookie, and I don’t have the advantage for me to talk or even miss mini-camp. I don’t have any proven ability to miss mini-camp. I just have to go out here and practice and compete every day and get right with the playbook. There were no plans of missing mini-camp.”
Surtain was always going to show up for rookie mini-camp. His father, Patrick Surtain Sr. — a former three-time Pro Bowl cornerback — likely helped advise his son on the issue. Senior coached Junior in high school and has been in his son's hip pocket, in the best sense, throughout his playing career.
However, if you were worried that Surtain's decision to attend might create a divide with the veterans, don't sweat it. Many key vets have already been in touch with Surtain.
“I’ve talked to [safeties] Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, and those guys—the ‘old heads,’ the vets," Surtain said. "I started getting a little perspective on what to do around here and on defense.”
Who among the vets could blame Surtain for attending mini-camp? After all, Surtain is unsigned (as of the writing of this article) and likely isn't yet a member of the NFLPA officially.
"When you sign on the dotted line with an NFL team, you become a member of the NFLPA," the NFLPA's website reads.
Surtain is the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year and had a storied college career but he's proven nothing in the NFL. For now, it's about showing up for the coaches, getting Vic Fangio's scheme down, and beginning the process of establishing himself as a young leader, at least among his fellow rookies.
“Yeah, I’ve tried to take on that leadership role and lead by example—giving maximum effort," Surtain said. "I’m trying to be a figure that all the rookies can look at. Just going through every drill as fast as I can and working hard through it.”
The other rookies will look to the Broncos' first-round pick to set the tone. When the dust settles on the NFLPA's boycotting of OTAs, and the vets return to the fold — even if that's not until training camp starts — Surtain will have taken every conceivable opportunity to improve.
It would be concerning if he didn't show up to mini-camp. So far, Surtain is doing and saying all the right things. The Broncos are very pleased in their first-round draft choice.
Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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