Labriola On

Labriola on non-events of the past week

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • Everybody, just take two steps back, away from the panic button.
  • Apparently, three recent non-events taking place over the past week, or to frame it in the context of where we are on the NFL calendar, three different non-events taking place some five complete months before a game that counts, sent portions of Steelers Nation into a tizzy.
  • The most significant of the non-events – just typing that is making my ears ring – was Antonio Brown not attending the first day of Phase 1 of the offseason program.
  • We take a quick pause here to explain Phase 1 of an NFL offseason program: it's voluntary, and even though it's ostensibly a football practice involving football players at a football facility, there are no actual footballs permitted.
  • Right. It's exactly like open gym at your high school.
  • And nobody even would've noticed Brown wasn't there if his agent hadn't announced it via a leaked report to Foxsports.com, which begs the question: is somebody even officially absent if no one notices?
  • Just so everyone understands the milquetoast tone of the original "report" on FoxSports.com, here is the exact text from Mike Garafolo's story: "The All-Pro wide receiver, who has caught 239 passes in the past two seasons combined, will be skipping the voluntary workout program and is mulling sitting out mandatory minicamp and perhaps even training camp in an attempt to secure a new contract, sources have told FOX Sports."
  • To summarize: Antonio Brown isn't attending something he isn't required to attend, and beyond that, everything else is up in the air. Maybe he will, maybe he won't. Maybe the world will end, maybe it won't.
  • In the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, there are no more two-a-day practices in pads, there are a limited number of padded practices during a regular season, there are a specified number of days off during the bye week. Those all are examples of issues the players wanted. In the same CBA are a set of penalties designed to make it painfully punitive for any player with a signed contract who holds out.
  • For example, a team can fine a player, with a signed contract, up to $70,000 for missing minicamp. For each day of missed training camp, it's another $30,000. Then if the holdout continues, teams are permitted to start going after prorated portions of already-paid signing bonuses.
  • Without getting into a lot of ifs, the tab for a holdout that would include minicamp and the first six days of training camp would be approaching $750,000. And that's just for some days of football in shorts and the first few padded practices of a training camp that usually lasts close to three full weeks.
  • That certainly would classify as a heckuva commitment to a hopeless cause.
  • And it is a hopeless cause, because the Steelers don't do contract extensions for non-quarterbacks until the player is about to enter the final season of his existing deal.

Top photos of wide receiver Antonio Brown.

  • In my opinion Antonio Brown's best course of action would be to show up for OTAs, then minicamp, and then report to training camp as scheduled to avoid any fines; then play the next two years under his current contract, which reportedly will pay him a total of $14.25 million in base salary; and then look for a bigger payday from the Steelers heading into the 2017 season when he will be 28-going-on-29 years old.
  • So all of that was Monday going into Tuesday, and then on Tuesday night, Brown tweeted, "I'll be there." On Wednesday, he tweeted, "Just enjoying my new born Ali can not wait to get back with my teammates! I am dad first and working to be best player I can be."
  • So, OK. Never mind. Apparently.
  • Great, moving on to the next non-event – the signing of a second Australian punter, this one named Jordan Berry, with the other Australian punter being Brad Wing, who held the job for the Steelers in 2014. The two Aussies are joined on the Steelers' offseason roster by first-year player Richie Leone.
  • This signing obviously happened because the Steelers are really unhappy with Wing and they really don't think Leone is the answer there, either.
  • OR, the Steelers know they're going to need a punter for rookie minicamp, which will be held the weekend after the draft, and because Berry is someone who qualifies under the very strict requirements governing player eligibility for that exercise, he was a safe signing.
  • But what about the long-snapper, Brandon Hartson, the Steelers claimed off waivers from the Kansas City Chiefs? Certainly he was signed to compete with veteran Greg Warren, right?
  • Wrong. Hartson's entire NFL career entailed being signed by the Chiefs to a futures contract and then waived before the start of the offseason program. That makes him eligible for rookie minicamp, and by the way, can you imagine how difficult/impossible it would be to try to conduct a football practice without a viable long-snapper and punter?
  • Since this is so much fun, let's throw in another non-event just for yuks. Wide receiver Jaelen Strong from Arizona State was at the Steelers facility on April 17 as one of the team's allotted draft visits.
  • Wow. Strong is a top talent at that position, so it's obvious the Steelers are re-thinking their draft priorities, with receiver becoming more of a need what with Antonio Brown going to be a holdout and all.
  • Wrong again. Strong had a wrist injury that was bad enough to have some believing he would require surgery, and when Strong missed the medical re-check that was held in Indianapolis he came to Pittsburgh for a battery of tests on his wrist. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Steelers' doctors cleared Strong and are sending the results of his checkup to other teams.
  • So, let's go to the scoreboard. Antonio Brown's holdout looks like it's going to be much ado about nothing. The punter and the long-snapper the Steelers signed are nothing more than guys they need to get through rookie minicamp. And Jaelen Strong's visit to Pittsburgh had more to do with medical information than the Steelers surprising the world and picking a wide receiver in the first round of this draft.
  • But wait just a minute.
  • Nobody saw James Harrison during the first couple of days of open gym, disguised as Phase I of the offseason program. Or Ben Roethlisberger.
  • Where's that panic button?
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