Around the NFL  

 

Does the NFL's offseason schedule hurt young players?

Print

"It's 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?"

That mildly sinister television ad from decades ago had nothing to do with football, but it applies to today's NFL, where coaches are largely forbidden from seeing their players for months on end during the offseason.

Coaches always want more time with their players. Especially at the NFL level, where everyone from Jason Garrett to Bruce Arians used last week's Annual League Meeting to argue that a lack of access to their players -- especially younger athletes -- comes with a cost.

Watch:

"You're always trying to develop players. Players want to be developed," said Garrett, the Cowboys' head coach. "If you're a young player, your first year in the league, and you have aspirations to be a great player in the NFL, you want to maximize that opportunity. Structure right now, with what our calendar is, many of the players are trying to maximize that opportunity away from your building."

It's not a new complaint. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, first-year coaches can't gather with their players this offseason until April 4, while returning coaches must wait until April 18 to launch workouts.

That leaves inexperienced players to fend for themselves with no help from the team. Some handle the challenge fine, but others -- after years of college-level coddling -- find themselves wandering.

"They're working hard, but we as coaches want as much exposure to these guys as possible to hopefully help them develop as best we can," Garrett said. "But the rules are what they are and we have to be very mindful of what the rules are and what we can and can't do and use the time that we do have with them to its fullest."

When the latest CBA was passed by the league and the NFL Players Association, coaches were given zero voice at the negotiating table. Once an NFL quarterback himself, Garrett would have argued for more access, and wondered why players fought for less.

"I was there in February," Garrett said of his years as a backup Cowboys passer in the 1990s. "You go in, you lift, you run, you watch tape around the coaches a little bit. I think a lot of players -- the players that weren't drafted high, particularly guys at the end of the roster, who are just looking for chances to compete -- I think early on in the offseason, there's very valuable time for them to grow and develop. And then once you get into the (organized team activities), when you're out on the field competing, you have a much better chance. You're a better player. And we think that's very valuable and we hope candidly that the league looks at it and someway gives us more of the year to help develop some of these young players."

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has been in the NFL for more than 20 years, and couldn't help but reflect on how things have changed.

2016 NFL DRAFT

Draft coverage:

"You could have (the players) all the time," Zimmer told Around The NFL. "And the other part was, if they wanted to come in and meet with you and stuff like that, they could. Now, they can't really even do that. So, I don't know, it's always hard comparing 20 years ago to today, but some of these young guys, they could use an awful lot of structure this time of year, especially."

Zimmer echoed his fellow coaches to lament what the current guidelines mean for fringe players angling to make an NFL roster.

"These young guys, they could use more time," Zimmer said. "And, really, this time of year is the time to work on perfecting technique and little things to help them be better football players. I think it just makes it tough for first-, second- and third-year players that could be giving themselves a better opportunity to compete when they come back in. The turnover rate with those young guys is obviously very high anyway, but it would allow them to have a better opportunity to compete."

Arians told us that he still sees plenty of his players socially, but those meetings limit what coaches can discuss or share.

"I'll be at (Patrick Peterson's) foundation, (Larry Fitzgerald's) foundation, they'll be at my foundation," the Cardinals head coach said. "So I see them, and they all support each other so much, I'll see most of the team. But I know you can't talk to them. I don't think you can even Skype and do all that Facebook (expletive)."

What the Cardinals would appreciate, per Arians, is "having a weekend where we can bring our players in and do some life-skills studies with them, but we have to get that passed in the CBA."

Most coaches downplayed the need to teach scheme at this time of year, with Atlanta's Dan Quinn arguing that it's team unity that suffers more.

"The biggest challenge for me is building that relationship with the players," Quinn said. "When you don't have the ability to have good talks -- 'Hey, come on in, let's visit' -- it takes longer to build that relationship. ... I think it's the small things that we're missing. At times, we feel like we're a society that gets disconnected by our devices, at a time when we probably need more time together to build that relationship for our team and family that we have here."

If the league wanted to explore a fix, a logical dividing line would be more access to younger players -- those in their first three seasons, for instance. While veterans know how to prepare and grow in the offseason, newbies could use more indoctrination. With millions of dollars being poured into these athletes, why leave them to figure it out on their own?

"There's no question that if we had more access to the players, then we could just hang with the process they're going through and getting ready for another year," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told Around The NFL. "I'd like to think we could enhance, particularly, the prospects and the young guys coming through and trying to figure it out -- and we could help them. There's been this big cutoff period and I don't think that's what's best. I just think it's a way to stop the interaction from happening."

Said Carroll: "In the discussion of all that, it sounded like a good idea -- I don't think it's working out."

Print

Fan Discussion