The Philadelphia media was abuzz last week due to the absence of Eagles star defensive tackle Fletcher Cox from OTAs. The common reaction from the media and the fan base was "that's not what leaders do," or "missing non-mandatory practices doesn't set a good precedent for the offseason and the upcoming season."
Regardless, Cox reported to voluntary practice on Tuesday and talked to the media about missing OTAs last week. He had a pre-planned family outing, reportedly a vacation, and head coach Doug Pederson was told about it beforehand.
In a part of the yearly calendar where there isn't much to talk about with the Philadelphia sports teams, the media will do almost anything to grab at a storyline. Cox's "no-show" from OTA's last week was an easy serve for the starving headline-grabbing local sports hounds.
Ultimately, in an ideal world, it would be great to have every player be at the OTA's to build camaraderie, and set a good example for the upcoming year. But, many veterans around the NFL make the decision that non-mandatory activities during the offseason isn't necessary since they have put in seasons of hard work to get to where they are. Sometimes it is about spending more time with family before the grind of the season vastly approaches.
There is one side of the argument that will suggest it is a player's job to be at all activities during the offseason, mandatory or not required, and they get paid handsomely to be there. Yes, that is true, but circumstances during these months happen and players, for whatever reason, are expected to be there.
Normally, the excuse for a player not being at OTA's is family related. It is only fair to be okay with that, especially if it is a veteran who has earned the respect of the locker room.
Cox has earned the respect of the locker room from all accounts. Players that were asked about Cox's absence didn't react negatively. He came back to the NovaCare Complex this week with a business as usual attitude. Though his play took a slight dip after the mega contract extension last summer, he still remained one of the better interior defensive players in the game. On game days, his motor still remained ultra high in 2016.
Despite all the talk about Cox missing OTA's last week, Jason Peters, Marcus Smith and Donnie Jones haven't made an appearance at any of the voluntary practices, as of Tuesday. Peters and Jones are two veterans that probably were told to do what is necessary this offseason, as long as they are ready for the mandatory minicamp in a couple of weeks. It is tough to make a solid case for Smith missing camp, especially since he is considered a roster bubble guy heading into training camp this summer. The former first-round pick is surely a bust, and maybe there is more to this story.
During the first day of the second week of OTA's on Tuesday, LeGarrette Blount, Jordan Matthews, Darren Sproles, Tim Jernigan, Vinny Curry, Ron Brooks and Alex McAllister were absent from practice. Blount, Jernigan and Sproles were unavailable due to family reasons. Curry was ill, while Brooks and McAllister were listed as out due to personal reasons. Matthews is battling some knee tendinitis, though the team said it was only a precautionary measure to hold him out of the voluntary practice.
OTA's are largely irrelevant. Players aren't permitted to wear full pads, or even hit for the most part. There is some contact that occurs during these voluntary sessions, but it isn't anything to the extent of what is seen in the minicamp, or training camp for that matter. The practices are design to get the players on the field to build some offseason camaraderie, but as long as it isn't listed as mandatory, some players, especially veterans, aren't compelled to report if they have other obligations taking place closer to their home.
As September gets closer, very few will recall Cox's brief absence from voluntary practice, and instead will be discussing his elite play on the field.