No communication between players, teams might become issue

The stabbing of Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall -- he should recover within 2 to 3 weeks, his agent said -- is unfortunate. Yet it is a reminder that problems are constantly lurking, especially for football players during the offseason.

I'm not about to go all knee-jerk and say this is another incident stemming from players being locked out and not supervised by their teams.

Players arrested during lockout

Buccaneers CB Aqib Talib is one of 10 players to have been arrested since the NFL lockout began March 12. Talib turned himself in last month in a shooting case. **More ...**

To the contrary.

This incident, in which police say Marshall was stabbed by his wife, could have happened if the receiver was participating in offseason activities with his team. It could have happened during the season. It simply could have happened because something always seems to be going on with Brandon Marshall.

Now, we've seen our share of troubling incidents this offseason. In addition to Marshall -- who as far as we know is a victim -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel and Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt, among others, have been cited in police reports this offseason. We've also seen non-player employees step out of line.

As of now, though, this isn't some trend because players are locked out of work. They get in trouble every offseason. I've covered the NBA and NFL combined for far more than a decade, and I can't say the number of players getting into trouble is some abnormality.

Some of these players -- Bryant, Britt, Talib and Marshall -- had prior issues, so this could be more about them than a league-versus-players labor standoff.

Sure, offseason activities do provide players with structure and something to do three or four days per week. We all know that certain people need structure and supervision to organize their days and themselves.

Those of us who cover the NFL also know that not everybody attends every offseason workout with the team and that several players work out on their own and do just fine. Some don't do fine. Some get in trouble or seem surrounded by trouble at the very least. Idle time is idle time, and some players don't always do the right thing with it.

One train of thought is that because some of the locked-out players haven't received workout or roster bonuses or other means of revenue, they're more restrained with carousing, potential trouble-making behavior and keeping a distance from money-grabbing friends who could lead them astray.

Now, where the lockout does come into play -- and this is serious -- is the lack of communication between players and teams. Some coaches, particularly assistants, have tight relationships with players. There also might not be a more important person in any NFL building than the player development director or someone with a similar title.

This person is the go-to communicator, facilitator, friend and common-sense director for every team. They arrange everything from helping players find real-estate agents when they move to town, to getting them offseason internships with local businesses, to helping them navigate baby-mama drama.

Players trust these people because many of their discussions are private and don't reach coaches or others in the organization. Player development directors also tell players when they need to grow up, ditch the homies and get their butts to work when they're not feeling up to it that day.

At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, I spoke with a number of player development guys who were terrified about not being able to speak with players. One told me specifically that some players on his team needed him because he listened to them when no one else would. The severance of communication wouldn't be healthy, he said.

The biggest fear of some player development directors I spoke with is that after spending months, if not years, building relationships with players, the inability to be there in a time of need could breach trust. There are players who count on them but remain insecure enough to think folks with the team turned their backs on them in moments of need.

It might not seem like a big deal to many people because most of us don't have anyone but our parents, spouses or friends to lean on during crises. Then again, most of us don't do our jobs in front of millions on Sundays and Mondays or receive $90,000 every two weeks with women who previously paid no attention to us suddenly interested -- not to mention fast-food franchisers trying to get us to invest.

A multitude of dynamics are in play, and if this lockout stretches on for months, we'll see more players get in more trouble than usual. Maybe then we can say idle time and lack of structure caused by the lockout had a role. Now, though, the calendar is pretty much the same as it always is.

So is player behavior -- and last I checked, most of the folks are conducting themselves as professionals and adults.

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