The last time Barrett Ruud had any on-field participation at One Buccaneer Place this offseason was during the team’s voluntary mini-camp in early April. After skipping all of the OTAs (organized team activities) in May and June over his desire for a contract extension, will the Bucs’ starting middle linebacker show for the mandatory mini-camp on Tuesday?
If he doesn’t have an excused absence, Ruud, who did participate in the team's FanFest on Saturday, will be subjected to a maximum fine of $8,000, according to Article XVIII, Section 1 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, for not showing up for the Bucs’ three-day mini-camp, which consists of four practices over Tuesday and Wednesday and a private team function on Thursday.
Ruud, who is entering the final year of the five-year deal he signed as the team’s second-round pick in 2005, is in a precarious situation due to the fact that the CBA between the NFL and the NFL Players Association is set to expire after this year. If a new CBA is not agreed to by the owners and the players union then a set of already agreed upon rules will be in effect for the 2010 season that will make it an uncapped year and prevent any player that has not accrued six years in the NFL from being an unrestricted free agent.
That means that Ruud will become a restricted free agent in 2010 and won’t become an unrestricted free agent until 2011.Because of the uncertainty over whether the NFLPA and the NFL owners can come to terms on a CBA extension to keep the salary cap and the four-year-to-free-agency rule intact, few teams are negotiating with players like Ruud, Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White and others around the league until next February, the most probable timetable for any possible resolution.
Ruud’s decision to miss the 14 OTA sessions at One Buccaneer Place concern the team because not only is he one of the team’s best players, Ruud is also the leader of the defense, which is in the process of installing new defensive coordinator Jim Bates’ scheme.
“Of course we put a large emphasis into our offseason and our OTAs, and no doubt that Barrett has missed a lot of time,” said Bucs linebackers coach Joe Barry. “We ask the guys to be here and when they’re here we tell them that we are not going to waste their time. Our goal as coaches is to make you better if you are here. Any given day, you are going to walk out of this place better than you walked in. Especially now with there being a new system with new terminology a handful of new players and new coaches. I’d be lying to you if I said, ‘Oh no, Barrett didn’t miss anything. He’ll be fine.’ He missed quite a bit of stuff.”
Ruud does have the benefit of starting for the last two years in the NFL, so he has the physical part down. Ruud’s challenge will be more mental in terms of getting caught up with Bates’ new scheme and terminology, in addition to developing on-field chemistry with two new starters in the linebacking corps as Derrick Brooks and Cato June were released in the offseason.
Barry knows that Ruud is one of the most intelligent players on the team and it will only be a matter of time before he catches up to speed.
“Now the one thing with me knowing Barrett and having coached him before, when he gets here, we’ll get him right. We’ll make sure he gets it right and he’ll pick everything up,” Barry said. “It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t here, but looking at the positive side, it’s been great for Rod Wilson and Niko Koutouvides. All those reps that Barrett would have received, all the coaching he would have gotten – they got bombarded with.”
Wilson, a former college safety who is in his first year of playing middle linebacker in the NFL after joining Tampa Bay on December 17 last year, has made quite an impression on Barry and the coaching staff while running with the first team defense during Ruud’s absence.
“With Barrett Ruud not being here and us moving Rod Wilson it was one man’s negative and another man’s positive,” Barry said. “It was great for Rod in that he’s never played middle linebacker before. His game is all about speed and quickness. I’m excited about Rod Wilson because I think he brings a lot to the table.”
Whether Wilson will maintain his temporary starter status or surrenders it on Tuesday for the mandatory mini-camp depends on whether Ruud decides to show. Attempts to contact Ruud and his agent on Monday were unsuccessful.
Among the other players worth noting to see if they show up for mandatory mini-camp are quarterback Brian Griese, who has missed all offseason workouts, including the voluntary mini-camp back in April, and left guard Arron Sears, who has missed the entire OTAs after showing up for the voluntary mini-camp in April. Sears is believed to be suffering from some mental issues and the team has expressed its concern about him.
One player that will be sidelined for the mandatory mini-camp is reserve weakside linebacker Matt McCoy, who injured his calf last Wednesday and will be held out of this week's drills. Running back Cadillac Williams is in the process of working his way back from his second torn patellar tendon injury in as many seasons. He is not expected to be ready for this week's mini-camp, but could be ready for training camp in August.