One week from today, NFC North teams will be eligible to begin their offseason strength and conditioning programs. There will be much consternation about who attends, who skips and what it all means. But from my perspective the most important fact to remember is that all offseason work -- with the exception of one three-day minicamp -- is voluntary.
Rare is the player who should be criticized for working out away from the team. In the NFC North, I can think of two players, the Minnesota Vikings' Christian Ponder and the Green Bay Packers' Graham Harrell, who would be disservicing their careers by skipping even a portion of their teams' offseason programs. Both are hoping to make a significant jump in 2012, Ponder in terms of performance and Harrell on the depth chart, and both missed critical offseason work with coaches and teammates during the NFL lockout last year.
The inevitable roll call next week will almost certainly include Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte and Detroit Lions defensive end Cliff Avril, neither of whom have signed their franchise tenders and thus are ineligible to participate in club activities. Forte and Avril are seeking long-term contracts and would surrender a measure of leverage by signing the tenders now.
Everyone has their opinion about players missing offseason time. My advice is not to worry about it until it extends into training camp. I'm not saying I won't lean on an offseason "holdout" for occasional discussion points on an otherwise, but let's agree from the outset to temper any hysteria you might feel about missed offseason workouts.