GREEN BAY - On the first day of the Green Bay Packers’ mandatory minicamp, the familiar No. 21 jersey of their enigmatic young safety bounded through the defensive backfield for the first time in more than a month.
Its owner, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, elected to skip all of this year’s organized team activities while attending to what coach Mike McCarthy repeatedly described as a personal issue, the type of thing that surfaces for all of us from time to time. Word eventually surfaced that Clinton-Dix had experienced a death in the family: His godmother, Alisa Dorsett, died after suffering a heart attack around the time he graduated from the University of Alabama in early May.
“I had family issues,” Clinton-Dix said after Tuesday’s practice at Ray Nitschke Field.
But then something interesting happened. Clinton-Dix, speaking to a group of reporters, was asked if the family situation was the only reason he stayed off the field in Green Bay. He nodded his head in the affirmative, glanced directly into a video camera and winked.
On May 1, 2017, former general manager Ted Thompson made the obvious decision to exercise the fifth-year option on Clinton-Dix’s rookie contract, a provision that applies only to former first-round picks. In doing so, the Packers guaranteed Clinton-Dix a larger payday for the 2018 season — approximately $5.9 million — and also postponed his opportunity to negotiate a long-term extension. Rather than hitting the open market this past March, when his original rookie contract would have expired, Clinton-Dix is now scheduled to become a free agent next spring.
Which all boils down to this: In addition to the death of his godmother, which certainly warranted some time to grieve, the other reason Clinton-Dix skipped OTAs was the lack of financial motivation to attend. Unlike many of his veteran teammates, who earned scheduled paydays simply by showing up, Clinton-Dix didn't have any workout bonuses in his contract.
“It’s not meant for me to be here,” Clinton-Dix said. “I don’t have a signing 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 downtime.
“(This year) I’m excited not to have that bonus in there though, honestly, because I would have definitely been here for my money. … It gave me that flexibility to be able to go home when I wanted to go home, whereas a lot of guys get paid $500K to be here and you can’t miss nothing but three days. 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.”
Dorsett, 49, suffered a heart attack while in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to watch Clinton-Dix graduate with a degree in criminal justice, something he had been working toward by taking classes during the offseason. Dorsett passed away two days before the ceremony, according to an obituary in the Orlando Sentinel, and Clinton-Dix decided to remain with his family for the next few weeks. He told reporters that Dorsett, who worked as a principal in Florida, meant “everything” to him and said she played a large role in his path toward “being a young man.”
Clinton-Dix later returned to Wisconsin to participate in a charity golf tournament benefitting the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation earlier this month. He also posted pictures from a local fishing trip with fellow safety Josh Jones.
“It’s a challenge at times,” Clinton-Dix said. “But, you know, my family means everything to me. I don’t know how close you guys are with your family, 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.”
The magic of technology afforded Clinton-Dix an opportunity to follow the defense from afar, be it in Alabama, Florida or other parts of Wisconsin. Each day, members of the Packers’ video department uploaded practice footage to the team-issued iPads, and Clinton-Dix said he watched film to begin grasping defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s new scheme.
If and when he had questions, Clinton-Dix contacted Pettine, defensive pass game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. or defensive quality control coach Ryan Downard for guidance.
“Anytime I needed anything they were right there to text me back or sent me the clip I needed to catch up on,” Clinton-Dix said. “It wasn't a problem at all. … I watched every single practice so I didn't miss a beat.”
With the optional workouts behind him, Clinton-Dix is expected to remain in Green Bay for the conclusion of the offseason program and report for training camp in late July. He bristled at the idea of holding out for a new contract — a la Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor in 2015 — because of the fines associated with missing mandatory activities.
“You’re getting fined and fined and fined,” Clinton-Dix said of players who wage holdouts. “I’m a guy that I need my money, man. That’s why I’m here now. I need my money.”
So there's a major reason for his absence last month: He couldn't be fined for skipping voluntary workouts.
Nonetheless, at some point between now and next February, when the football world descends on Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, the Packers and Clinton-Dix's representatives will engage in conversations about a potential contract extension. And at that point, Clinton-Dix can finally broach the subject of adding a workout bonus to his next deal.
“I ain’t worried about the long-term contract,” Clinton-Dix said. “I’ll let God handle that. All I can do is focus on what I can do and that’s be a ballplayer and make plays and have fun.
“My film is already on tape. I could not play a down and get a new contract and be fine. Stats speak for themselves, everything speaks for themselves. I've just got to go out there and continue getting better, continue maximizing my opportunity and winning my 1-on-1s.”