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NFL AM: Ravens Lose OTA Time For Offseason Training Violation

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The Baltimore Ravens tried to bend the rules that the NFL puts in place for offseason training, but the league wasn’t having it and the Ravens paid dearly for their attempt.

The NFL announced on Thursday that they were taking the rare step of stripping Baltimore of training time, forcing the Ravens to forfeit one week of their Organized Team Activities from June 1-3, after a league investigation found that Baltimore had a full pads practice session during rookie minicamp earlier this month, a big no-no under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. In addition to the loss of three of the just 10 days teams are allotted for OTA, the franchise received a hefty fine of $343,057 and head coach John Harbaugh was fined $137,223.

“We made a mistake and we are sorry for that,” the Ravens said in a statement. “We accept the NFL discipline.”

Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time the Baltimore franchise has run into a similar problem with the offseason training rules. Back in June of 2010, the Ravens were stripped of their opportunity to have minicamp after the players union lodged a complaint about the intensity of their voluntary workouts. At the time, the NFLPA noted the intensity and tempo of the team’s activities as well as the amount of time those activities and others required players to spend at the team facility as violations.

“The NFL informed us of the situation, and the action they’ve taken is appropriate,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement issued by the team at the time. “We made a mistake, and it won’t happen again.”

However, it took just six years for the Ravens to stray from the rules again.

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t that big a deal. The Ravens aren’t the first team to go over the line in the offseason, and they won’t be the last. Teams often push the envelope as it relates to offseason activities in an attempt to get the most out of their players and make significant progress before training camp and the real high-intensity work begins. If you get caught, you pay the price. It’s that simple.

And however petty it may seem, it is important for the NFLPA to continue to enforce these rules, and for the league to continue doling out that punishment and make it hurt. It has the two-fold benefit of protecting the players from injury, something we see more than enough of in the league as it is, and maintaining competitive balance between all the franchises. If the NFL didn’t put a cap on these things, much like the salary cap, things would get out of hand in a hurry with some teams doing whatever it takes to get the upper hand, even at the expense of their own players’ health and well-being.

Checks and balances are a good thing, and kudos to the Players’ Association and the league office for making sure they were in place and followed to the letter.

RAVENS INVITE RAY RICE TO SPEAK TO ROOKIES

Though the Ravens clearly violated rules with their workouts, they may have also tempted the league to take notice with another move they made: inviting running back Ray Rice to speak to their rookies.

Rice has been out of the league since 2013, when he was suspended and later dismissed by Baltimore after a domestic violence incident in February of that year at an Atlantic City, New Jersey casino, where he punched his then fiancee in an elevator and was caught on tape. When that tape was released to the public, Rice was suspended indefinitely by the league. He was reinstated in 2014, but has yet to receive an opportunity from any team and at age 29, the ship has nearly sailed on the chances of Rice ever getting back into the league.

However, that didn’t stop the Ravens from bringing him in to talk to their rookies this week. Of course doing so forced the franchise to release another statement on Thursday explaining their actions, which is always a pretty good sign that your idea was not a good one to begin with.

“Our 27 sessions to our rookies through our player engagement program review and teach life management and life lessons,” the team said. “Rice, who played for the Ravens from 2008-2014, delivered an important message that included his story, both the good and the bad. He clearly had the attention of our rookies.”

That’s all fine and well, but the wounds are still too fresh on this particular incident and domestic violence is still to much of a league-wide problem for the franchise to take this step to invite a player who committed such a heinous and recent attack against a woman back to speak about “life lessons.”

At this point, Rice’s should remain a cautionary tale told by others. Let time pass and let him show more contrition and pay more for his actions before he gets a chance to dish out life lessons. Because right now, with Rice still holding onto that glimmer of hope he can play again, this reads like a desperate move from a desperate man to use his situation and relationship with the Baltimore franchise to leverage an opportunity, and the Ravens fed into it. That’s not ok.

Who knows if the league saw it that way or not, but again it’s a bad sign when you have to issue any statement defending yourself about a guest you had speaking to your team. And the timing of the fines and punishment for the offseason training violation is pretty interesting when you try to tie the two together. They may well be unrelated, but in this league it’s also quite possible they aren’t.

ABDULLAH HAD SHOULDER SURGERY

The Detroit Lions had the worst rushing attack in the league last season and as they try to improve that, they’re working around a significant injury to the man poised to lead that attack in 2016.

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reported on Thursday that Detroit running back Ameer Abdullah had surgery back in January to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder and will be sidelined for the foreseeable future. The Lions have not released a statement on the injury, but according to Birkett’s source, the team expects that Abdullah will miss all of all their offseason workouts, but may be cleared for contact in the next month and ready to roll come training camp. Detroit coach Jim Caldwell was elusive when asked about Abdullah’s status on Thursday.

“You know I don’t talk about injuries and all that stuff, and those kind of details,” Caldwell said. “But he had a procedure and he’s recovering nicely.”

The surgery was reportedly performed by Dr. James Andrews and Abdullah has been rehabbing with the team as well as on his own in Atlanta. He is said to be ahead of schedule.

Abdullah is set to be a key piece for the Detroit offense in 2016. The Lions attack is already reeling from the abrupt retirement of superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson and everyone on the offense is going to have to pick up some slack to fill the enormous hole Johnson has left behind. That’s especially true of the Detroit ground attack, which accounted for a league-worst 83.4 yards per game last season.

As a rookie, Abdullah led the way in yardage, with 597 yards on 143 carries, a respectable average of 4.2 ypc. He also hauled in 25 passes and picked up 183 yards through the air. But he did all that over the span of 16 games including nine starts, so the Lions were expecting a little more. Abdullah never had that big game they needed from their running back. In fact he didn’t eclipse 80 yards on the ground or 100 yards from scrimmage once over the course of the season.

Provided he gets healthy in a timely fashion and is able to participate in training camp, much more will be expected from him during the 2016 campaign. The Lions did sign Stevan Ridley this offseason and still have Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner, but all three are niche backs and Abdullah, a 2015 second round pick, is the clear candidate to be the team’s workhorse. And that’s something they’ll need.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys