VOLUNTARY NFL organized team activities are, as Fletcher Cox explained to reporters gathered around his locker stall Tuesday, "just one of those deals where people show up or they don't."
Cox showed up to practice in the rain, and he indicated he won't miss any more time, after skipping the first set of sessions last week to attend a family gathering. But on the day after Memorial Day, 10 Eagles could not be found on the NovaCare field, for reasons ranging from injury (Jordan Matthews, held out with knee tendinitis) to not making it back from a wedding in time (LeGarrette Blount) to a family obligation (Tim Jernigan) to illness (Vinny Curry).
Many of the missing are expected to return Wednesday, and the only one we know of with an issue that needs to be addressed seems to be defensive end Marcus Smith. The Eagles haven't provided an answer for their 2014 first-round draft pick's absence last week and this week. It's been inferred that he is trying to hasten his release, which seems inevitable before a $594,000 roster bonus comes due on the third day of training camp.
The Eagles can gain almost $1.5 million in cap room by releasing Smith, who is on the short list of the franchise's all-time worst first-round picks. Agent Kennard McGuire, when asked Tuesday about his client's whereabouts, emailed the word "voluntary." Asked whether Smith would attend the June 13-15 mandatory minicamp, McGuire emailed "yes." So, not a lot of hand-wringable drama there.
Veterans skip days in OTAs every year - the sainted Brian Dawkins even did so, when he was an Eagle - but it's also true that the Eagles are trying to build something, coming off back-to-back losing seasons, and that head coach Doug Pederson made it clear last week that he'd sure like for everybody to show up.
Also, 10 guys out is a lot.
As areas go, it's as gray as Tuesday's sodden South Philly skies.
"Football is important to me, it was important that I be there, but family is also important," said Cox, the Eagles' $103 million defensive tackle, who explained "that was just a time when my whole family could take off work, and it's time I get to spend with them" back home in Mississippi.
"I think I'm going to stay away from the attendance questions," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Tuesday, a savvy sidestep by a veteran coach who was addressing reporters for the first time since the 2016 season ended.
Schwartz's speaking was the most notable thing that happened Tuesday at NovaCare, but, like the practice littered with no-shows, it wasn't entirely satisfying. While we certainly needed to get Schwartz's thoughts on the team drafting defensive end Derek Barnett 14th overall, those thoughts carried less urgency than they would have, oh, say, a month ago.
Schwartz does not want to be seen as upstaging Pederson or angling for his job. Schwartz takes this commendable notion to extremes, refusing to talk after games or at all during the offseason, until league media regulations require his presence behind a lectern. Once there, he is not prohibited from filibustering to avoid controversy, as he showed when asked about Cox missing last week's sessions.
Below you will find the most relevant part, minus the lengthy anecdote about Orioles ace Jim Palmer using spring training to work on various pitches, rather than concentrating on getting batters out. Schwartz explained that this is his favorite time of year, because it's about improvement, without game pressure. Which set up the Palmer story nicely, but had absolutely nothing to do with Cox and his family gathering last week.
"We all realize this is a voluntary part of the offseason program. When we get to mandatory minicamp, it becomes a little bit different," Schwartz said. "I think anything that a coach says - whether it's praising a guy for being here, or even sort of excusing a guy that's not here - it all sort of takes away from the voluntary nature of it. We've worked through things like that before."
Schwartz said that Smith "is a really good athlete," and that there "is great competition at our defensive end, not only drafting Derek (Barnett), adding a guy like Chris Long." Which, of course, is a big part of why Smith seems to have no future here.
Cox, meanwhile, wanted to make sure his questioners understood that his absence last week was not last-minute, not something he did on a whim.
"Doug knew that I wasn't going to be here last week. It wasn't a surprise to him. The whole coaching staff . . . (defensive line coach) Chris Wilson knew I wouldn't be here. I'm pretty sure Howie (Roseman) and those guys knew I wouldn't be here," Cox said. "I know they wanted me here, but it was just one of those times where family was very important to me at that moment.
"It had already been planned a long time ago. I had talked to Doug about it a long time ago."
Cox, 26, was listed at 6-4, 310 last season, but he said Tuesday he actually played at 320. Cox said he wants to get down to 310, and weighed 312 Tuesday morning. Frequently double-teamed last season, he made the Pro Bowl for the second year in a row, despite notching only 6.5 sacks.
"I thought I had a solid year. I could have been better. As a team, it could have been better," Cox said. He added that he thinks the Eagles organization "is moving forward" despite the free-agency departure of his friend and fellow starting d-tackle, Bennie Logan.
Cox didn't seem to want to delve into whether his status as the team's highest-paid player or his aspirations to leadership might have made last week's absence particularly unfortunate. He confirmed that he plans to be present henceforth.
"It's important that I'm here," he said, when asked about the obligations of his contract. "The coaches are happy, the players are happy to see me back, and I also was happy to be here."