"OTAs are meaningless."
That seems to be a common refrain these days, especially among those who neither participated in an Organized Team Activity nor played athletics at a high level.
It's also wrong.
It's been a major topic of conversation on seemingly an annual basis, as a handful of players across the NFL choose to miss some or all their team's OTAs each spring for several reasons.
The absence of New York Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., one of the most recognized and popular players in the NFL, has only served to increase the frequency and intensity of the discussion. His "no comment" to Kimberly Jones of NFL Network regarding future attendance, as well as his social media accounts, have just exacerbated the situation.
"If they don't have a story these days they'll make one..." I might get that tatted���� #StayTheCourse- Odell Beckham Jr (@OBJ_3) May 24, 2017
Let's be clear about two things: Participation in these OTA sessions is completely voluntary and a player of Beckham Jr.'s caliber missing this time isn't likely to have a major impact during the season.
But that's not the same as being "meaningless."
Just because something is voluntary, doesn't mean there isn't value in doing it. Try telling Tom Brady or Drew Brees or Russell Wilson or even Beckham Jr.'s teammate Eli Manning that these on-field practices are devoid of meaning. Having been a teammate of Brady's for parts of two seasons I can tell you that everything matters in his eyes. Everything. My guess is he would be less than happy if his star receiver wasn't at these sessions and that Manning feels the same way.
Every time you take the field, the focus is on trying to get better. And there is a chemistry component. Beckham Jr., or any other absent player, is missing that opportunity and arguably having the exact opposite impact on their team's chemistry. Now, none of those players will care if he is lighting up the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football in Week 1, but it also doesn't ingratiate him to his teammates if they are there working toward a common goal while he is hanging out in Los Angeles with Iggy Azalea and Johnny Manziel. Is that being a good teammate?
It would especially bother me if I were Beckham Jr.'s teammate. Under the current CBA, there is less than a month window when players can take the field with their teammates before camp and it is from the middle of May to the middle of June, before mandatory minicamps start up. Couldn't OBJ spend time doing other stuff during all the other available time?
If Beckham Jr. is purposefully missing OTAs because he wants a new contract and utilizing his only available leverage to express displeasure that is very different. NFL players understand this is a business first and that guys need to do whatever it is they feel is in their best interest to get the financial security they feel their services deserve. That wouldn't bother me at all and in fact I would support him in that goal. Goodness knows OBJ's on-field performance has merited more discussion now that he is eligible for a new contract after three years.
But, since Beckham Jr. has yet to really say why he isn't at OTAs it's left for the rest of us to speculate.
The truth is, for a lot of the other guys on the team, OTAs are vital. I'm not sure I would have made the Washington Redskins roster in either 2001 as a rookie with Marty Schottenheimer or 2002 under new head coach Steve Spurrier if I weren't at OTAs.
I remember vividly the day they had to throw me in at right tackle in 2002 because starter Jon Jansen couldn't practice that day. Thankfully, it went extremely well and I showed the new staff I could do something they didn't realize I was capable of. I can recall one of my fellow linemates saying "congratulations on making the team" to me after practice that day. I had to maintain the positive momentum through training camp, to be sure, but the difference in how the coaches treated me after that day was noticeable.
Certainly, I was not a player of Beckham Jr.'s caliber and the significance of OTAs was a lot greater for me than it would be for him, but no matter who you are as a professional football player it is the opportunity to compete and to refine your skills, especially in that environment against other pros and with your teammates, that drives you and enables you to get better.
There's a reason why Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison had that pre-game routine in Indy with the Colts all those years. Every rep mattered. Every day was a chance to get just a little bit better.
That's the truth about "meaningless" OTAs.
Maybe Odell Beckham Jr. understands that and this is just a contract thing.
Or maybe he doesn't.