Fixing the NFL’s overcrowded offseason

Posts have been a bit sparse here at Football Relativity, and that’s because it’s a slow time in the NFL. OTAs (organized team activities) are going on, but the only news is about holdouts that aren’t really holdouts because these practices aren’t required.

So instead of getting involved in mid-May hyperbole that means nothing in the long run, I thought we’d address what NFL teams should have the right to require of their players during the offseason. Right now, all that’s required of veterans is one three-day minicamp (or two if your team has a new head coach), but coaches encourage/compel players to attend far more activities. Requiring more of players but limiting coaches and teams to those stated requirements could actually lead to players doing less throughout the offseason.

Moreover, as a byproduct of requiring more visits from players during the offseason, teams would be required to pay players at least 5 percent of their upcoming season salary by May 1 upon completion of the required meetings. Any negotiated workout bonuses would be in addition to this salary. This would serve as guaranteed money for any player going through the offseason program. Any player who missed any required session would forfeit no more than 5 percent of his upcoming season’s salary.

So here’s a suggested offseason schedule for NFL players and teams:

January – Rehab. For teams that miss the playoffs (or as teams are eliminated), each player would receive a trainer’s report that created a basic offseason training plan. This plan would include specific injury rehab exercises as well as suggestions on reaching any contractual weight clauses. Teams could not mandate a course of training but could mandate certain baseline results in terms of weight. Once trainers assign plans to each player, the team weightlifting and exercise facilities would be open and available to players, but players could also train elsewhere. Players would only be required to report to the facility to receive their plan and for periodic weight or injury rehab check-ups.

March – Spring school. In March, a team would have the ability to require a four-day classroom session with all veterans. This could happen during a week (Monday through Thursday) or over a weekend (Thursday to Sunday). No on-field activities would be permitted, but coaches could have film sessions, team meetings, and any other non-contact, non-physical meetings. The goal of this would be to introduce players to new systems or updates to the playbook. The earliest this session could happen would be two weeks after the Super Bowl, so that all teams start from equal footing, and it would have to be completed by the end of March. Any other film work or playbook study would be completely voluntary on a player’s part.

April – Minicamp. Most fans think of all OTAs as minicamps, but the minicamp is one weekend of on-field activity that teams are currently allowed to require. Under our new plan, teams would go from having three required minicamp days to having five required days, with the provision that these five days must take place within nine calendar days and that one day off was required after three days of practice. So a team could have consecutive minicamp weekends that are requried, or have one set of Monday through Saturday practice with a day off. These practices would be on field and use helmets and shells, but contact would not be permitted (not even in Eric Mangini-esque “competitive sessions”). A team with a new head coach would be permitted seven minicamp days that happen within 12 calendar days, with no more than three consecutive practice days. These minicamps could take place starting the Friday after the completion of the draft.

May – Rookie minicamp. Teams often have rookie minicamps to help players adjust, and this plan would allow teams to allow rookies to participate. If a team offered rookie minicamps, it would have to offer salary protection to any rookie participating who is not under contract. Veterans could not be required to attend rookie minicamp, and if they attended they would not be allowed to take part in on-field drills. Rookie minicamp would be limited to two days and would have to take place on a Saturday and Sunday so that any players who had not yet graduated would theoretically not have to miss class time.

June – No-contact walk-through. At the end of May, teams would be allowed two days of non-contact walk-throughs. No helmets or shells would be allowed, but players would be able to walk through plays on the field. This would be a two-day camp designed as a refresher before players break for the summer. This walk-through would have to take place between Memorial Day and the fourth of July, and immediately after it the team facility would be closed to players for four weeks (except for workout facilities). This is designed to allow coaches to give players one last look at the playbook and a few teaching points for the players to take into their summer vacations before training camp begins in August.

So there you have it – a limit of five days of practice, two days of walkthroughs, four days of meetings, and two days of rookie camp during the offseason. All would be required, and players would be paid for participating as a way of guaranteeing a small portion of their salaries. The rest of the time, players would have to be self-motivated to work out and learn the playbook, and coaches would have to give players time off.

Would this plan work? Maybe. At the very least, it would force coaches to be more organized and focused and put the burden on the coaching staff to make best use of time instead of throwing the burden on players to be available at the organization’s every whim. With a new CBA coming up, ideas like this need to be considered so that we no longer have to read about players skipping practices that are technically voluntary in the first place.

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One response to “Fixing the NFL’s overcrowded offseason

  1. Pingback: The 18-game season is coming « Football Relativity

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