BOCA RATON, Fla. — John Harbaugh, still visibly shaken by the death of Ravens cornerback Tray Walker last week, made a plea to allow more young players more access to their teams — their “anchors” — during what has become a lengthy offseason.
“I hope the league and the union can take this tragic event and find common ground for the younger players in this league,” Harbaugh said at the AFC coaches breakfast on Tuesday at the NFL’s annual meetings. “Three months is a long time to be away, for some guys especially.”
Walker, 23, died on Friday after a dirt bike accident on Thursday in the Miami neighborhood where he grew up. Harbaugh said for players such as Walker, who come from less-than-ideal areas and backgrounds, having limited contact with their NFL team leaves them adrift and implied that it may have put Walker in the deadly situation.
“It’s the guys who need it the most who don’t come from a great situation at home,” Harbaugh said. “What’s their anchor? Where do they go to anchor themselves? They have nowhere to go for three months so they go home. They go back to where they have worked so hard to pull themselves out of . . . That’s where your friends are at, that’s where your relationships are.”
Harbaugh noted that he had many conversations with Walker about his “number one goal” to find his mother a good apartment and take her away from the area where he was raised.
“It’s not an environment that he was necessarily wanting to be in,” Harbaugh said, “but where else do you go?”
Since 2011, when the NFL and union agreed to the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement, the team’s facility has not been much of an option. The CBA reduced the offseason workout programs by five weeks, reduced the number of OTAs from 14 to 10, and limited players to four visits to the team facility for workouts per week (and none over the weekends).
Baltimore in the winter is not exactly a destination, and Harbaugh said only 10 or 12 players make their full-time home in the area. “Mostly family guys,” he said. Those, though, are not the ones Harbaugh believes need the team the most.
“It would really be good to be able to have the two- and three-year guys who choose to do it stay in the city where the team is at because we’re their new anchor in a lot of ways, we’re their family,” he said. “We’ve got the player development, we have relationships with coaches, they have a place to stay most of the time, they have a place they can go to train every single day without having to pay for it. It just makes a lot of sense that we have to do everything we can to help bridge that transition for a lot of guys who are coming from the backgrounds that they come from.”