GREEN BAY — The wink said it all.
Or did it?
One rarely knows when the interview subject is Green Bay Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who can be both funny and cryptic when speaking with reporters.
On Tuesday, he was both.
Absent from voluntary workouts the last three weeks in what was widely considered a purpose pitch to Packers management as he enters the final year of his rookie contract, the former first-round draft pick was back in Green Bay and on the practice field for the first day of the Packers’ mandatory three-day minicamp Tuesday.
When asked later why he skipped the nine organized team activity workouts, Clinton-Dix looked around and replied, “I had family issues.” Then he turned back to the reporter who asked the question and gave him an exaggerated wink accompanied by a smile.
The wink wasn’t the only thing Clinton-Dix did to lend credence to the notion he’s gently but firmly pushing for a contract extension with the Packers. Despite having a down season in 2017, due in part to the way he was used by former defensive coordinator Dom Capers, he has leverage. He knows the Packers need him if their beleaguered defense is going to improve.
Because the Packers exercised the fifth-year option on his contract, Clinton-Dix is guaranteed $5.96 million this season. However, he is due to become an unrestricted free agent when the season ends and, like most players, would prefer to have financial security beyond this year.
To be sure, Clinton-Dix did have family issues to deal with. His godmother, Alisa Dorsett, died last month after she suffered a heart attack while in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for his belated graduation from Alabama and he wanted to spend time with his family in Florida after that.
“I guess she was excited to see me graduate (and) just had a heart attack,” Clinton-Dix said. “(I) came back here and had a foundation (charity) event, and she lost all brain activity like Wednesday. It’s a challenge at times. But my family means everything to me. ... If I have the opportunity to be home with them, I would love to be home with them. The opportunity came, so I just relaxed at home, caught up on some sleep, just spent my time around my family.”
Clinton-Dix sounded sincere when he said that and no doubt he was. But then he made a surprising — and telling — admission about his absence from the team. First, he said not having an offseason workout bonus in his contract worked out well because it allowed him to skip the OTAs and spend time with family after his godmother’s death. But then he said he would have been at the OTAs if he would have had a workout bonus in his deal.
The message? Family wasn’t the only reason he didn’t show up. Financial concerns also were a factor.
“It’s not meant for me to be here,” Clinton-Dix said. “I don’t have a (workout) bonus to be here, so that definitely played a big role in me not being here, honestly, along with my godmother not making it. It’s kind of like, I can just stay home with my family and enjoy my family time while I have the down time. When the season kicks off, it’s just me up here. That’s life. (Stuff) goes on from time to time. I’m excited not to have that bonus in there, though, honestly, because I would have definitely been here for my money. You can’t buy time. So just to have that freedom to be able to get away, I think that was a plus not having it, honestly.”
The minicamp is the only mandatory session of the offseason in the NFL, which means players can be fined for skipping it. Asked if he would ever follow the lead of Seattle safety Kam Chancellor, who held out in 2015, Clinton-Dix said it wasn’t part of his thought process.
“What would holding out do?” he said. “Kam’s not me. He’s nowhere near me. You’re just wasting your time, really. You’re getting fined and fined and fined. I’m a guy that I need my money, man. That’s why I’m here now. I need my money.”
Clinton-Dix did attend the first three weeks of the Packers’ offseason program — mostly strength, conditioning and classroom work. That gave him an indoctrination to the scheme installed by new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Clinton-Dix said that while he was away, he watched practice video on his iPad daily and contacted the coaches if he had questions.
Coach Mike McCarthy has stood firmly behind Clinton-Dix, who made the Pro Bowl in 2016, and the Packers seem to think he will thrive in an altered role under Pettine. Clinton-Dix is thinking the same thing and wants to remain in Green Bay.
It’s possible the Packers are waiting to negotiate with Clinton-Dix or do any other deals until after they see what it will cost to sign quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a contract extension. Clinton-Dix seemed to allude to that Tuesday.
“It’s a lot on the line going on in this organization,” he said. “We’ve got to get out here and win ballgames, that’s the bottom line. If you’re winning ball games, you’re good. That’s my focus right now is winning ballgames.”
Other NFL players in contract disputes are risking fines for missing minicamps this summer, but not Clinton-Dix. He’s taking a different approach. Although his absence from the OTAs was clearly about money, there are no threats, no holdout, no drama now.
Just a wink.