In young people’s latest affront to the spirit of competition, the participation of some top NFL draft prospects in the upcoming scouting combine will be slim to none. Caleb Williams and Jayden Daniels will not throw until their respective Pro Days. Marvin Harrison Jr. will not be participating in any drills at the combine and most likely will do the same at Ohio State’s Pro Day, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

It is commonplace for players who know that they will not be spending much time in the green room during the first round of the NFL Draft to forgo working out at the combine. There is plenty of video and advanced statistical analysis available for teams to gauge the impact that level of prospect can provide. By not participating at a Pro Day, Harrison Jr. is taking that logic a step further. According to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the No. 1 wide receiver prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft is solely preparing for the upcoming NFL season and not any offseason showcases.

Harrison Jr. has that luxury, as does Daniels and Williams. They have already proven themselves to be the best players that their draft class has to offer. Those three have already passed a checkpoint that most of their NFL aspiring peers will never reach.

The journey to the NFL is difficult enough for players as they work to physical and mental exhaustion trying to gain advantages over each other. After 20-plus years of overcoming those odds, then players are forced to try and gain leverage on the shield.

The NFL has spent the last five decades fortifying itself against its players. With rosters that are double the size of MLB teams, the NFLPA has far more members than the other leagues. The vastly disparate incomes make it much harder for the NFL players to organize against management.

One of the results is a wage scale that limits rookie salaries in a league in which the average player’s career lasts approximately three years — the NFL also only offers post-career healthcare after five years. In a hard salary-capped sport, the wage scale results in teams being more willing to replace productive veterans with cost-controlled rookies.

With the way that NFL bylaws and strategies are stacked against players, they should be sure to maximize every single milliliter of leverage they have throughout their careers. There is no true open market for the talents of Williams, Daniels, and Harrison Jr. So why would there be any incentive for them to produce television content for the league while not under contract?

CJ Stroud threw at the combine last year. One way to view that is he secured his No. 2 overall pick status by showing off his competitive nature. My view is that any throwing work in Indianapolis was a waste of time, because he was clearly a better quarterback than Anthony Richardson and Will Levis. The eventual Offensive Rookie of the Year certainly did not convince David Tepper to give him the salary bump of being selected No. 1 overall.

Professional sports is a business. Like most businesses, efficiency is prioritized over the customer. The NBA All-Star Game is not as fun as it used to be, because no one is playing defense five feet past the 3-point line now that the league has slapped itself on the forehead after realizing that three is greater than two. A fan’s love of baseball may have waned over the past 20 years because the owner of that fan’s favorite team has no interest in winning games. In the NFL, profits continue to soar while there is a steel ceiling on how much of that the players receive.

Williams, Daniels and Harrison Jr. taking the field at the combine would show a competitor’s spirit. However, by going about these final months of the scouting process in the way that best serves their careers shows that these three young men already have a professional mindset.

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