Organized team activities are voluntary in the National Football League, but tight end Kellen Winslow's absence from the Bucs' past five OTAs didn't sit well with some fans.
That's because the Bucs traded a 2009 second-round pick and 2010 fifth-round draft selection to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for Winslow on the first day of free agency. In April, Bucs general manager Mark Dominik signed Winslow, who had two years remaining on his deal, to a six-year, $36 million extension.
Winslow, 25, fully participated in Tampa Bay's OTA on Tuesday and explained his absence from OTAs up to this point.
"I just had some family issues I needed to deal with, some personal issues," said Winslow. "The team understood. I talked to Coach Morris and the G.M. and I had an excuse, and they excused me. I thank them for that."
Winslow has been attempting to move his family from Cleveland to the Tampa Bay area since he was traded nearly three months ago. The former first-round draft pick also missed part of Tampa Bay's first three-day mini-camp under head coach Raheem Morris when his father-in-law, Enrique Guzman, who suffers from Alzheimer's, went missing in California before being found safe a few days later.
"[OTAs] are very important," said Winslow. "They are voluntary, but they're really not voluntary. You do need to be here, and I wish I could have been here. I just couldn't."
Winslow hasn't completed his move to Tampa yet, but said he doesn't plan on missing any of Tampa Bay's remaining OTAs or the team's mandatory mini-camp in mid-June.
Although he has not been practicing with his new teammates at One Buc Place, Winslow suggested he has attempted to study new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski's playbook in an effort to hit the ground running upon his return, which was Tuesday.
"We had the mini-camp and I took as many notes as I could," said Winslow. "We made some adjustments, so I'm trying to catch up. I don't think it will take long.
"It's a very simple offense and I like it because it's not too much in terms of volume of words. It's tight end friendly, it's running friendly and it's wide receiver friendly. Whoever gets open is going to be open and get the ball. We're also going to run the ball. I'm just going to do my best to be a piece of the puzzle and make plays."
Not only does he like Tampa Bay's offense, Winslow is also quite fond of first-year head coach Raheem Morris.
"I don't like him. I love him," Winslow said of playing for Morris. "I just love everything about him. He's always on me. I can't imagine playing for anybody else. This guy just gets us going. I can't wait to start."
Morris is looking for players to step up and establish themselves as leaders in Tampa Bay's young locker room. Winslow, who was deemed a controversial figure during his playing days in Cleveland, is one of those players, but was called out by former Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp two weeks ago due to his absence from OTAs.
"It was a chance for you to see your team come together. We never left here," Sapp said of OTAs. "We always came here to work. Mondays through Thursdays were workdays here. That's how we went about it. That's why I used to get on Keyshawn [Johnson] all the time when he first got here. Bill Parcells would never let you not show up during the offseason. Even if it was just running and lifting he was going to show up. We didn't ask him to run and lift. We were just asking him during those four weeks to be here so we could all come together. He wouldn't do that. It shows your dedication to your team more anything. Are you ready to lay the foundation that will carry us through the season? That's what is going on right now. That's why Kellen Winslow needs to be here so that when the quarterback throws to him when the blitz package is coming, ‘I know you're going to be there for me, Winslow.' Then you get the chance to work with Antonio Bryant and the other receivers. What the hell else are you doing? What else is going on? The Kentucky Derby?"
"When your team fires up OTAs and you're not here you're being misunderstood again, right? Your past doesn't reflect your future, but it does give a refection of what you might do. I'll leave it at that." Winslow has caught 219 passes for 2,459 yards (11.2 avg.) and 11 touchdowns while making one Pro Bowl during his five-year career. However, he knows he must have a presence at One Buc Place in order to truly establish himself as a leader in Tampa Bay.
"That's one of the main reasons I wanted to be here and get the playbook down," Winslow said of establishing himself as a leader. "I want to be here with the guys. What Warren [Sapp] said, we worked that out. I called him right after I read that. I guess he didn't' know I had an excuse. They're important, and I wanted to be here. I just couldn't."