The 2011 CBA greatly reduces the work hours and responsibilities of NFL players in the offseason. Plenty of players would prefer to have greater access to their coaching staffs in the offseason. Plenty of coaches would prefer it, too.
“The [NFL] management council and the [NFLPA] have got to get together and help us as organizations and coaches help our young players develop as people and players,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh recently said, via Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com. “I mean, come on. You hold us responsible and want us to be a factor in their lives like the mentoring program and things like that. Give us a chance.”
Harbaugh believes professional football players should be allowed to pursue their professions more than they’re currently permitted to do.
“This is not the NCAA,” Harbaugh said. “This is not recruiting. These are our guys. We want what’s best for our players. That’s what’s good for the league. That’s what good for these young men. And that’s what they want. . . .
“They want to go see their position coach. They want to learn football. It’s their craft. And we’re saying, ‘No, you can’t do it?’ Why? Because of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that makes no sense? Because somebody wanted to get their little win here vs. their little win over there? Get together and do what’s best for these players, and it’s about time that somebody stepped to the plate and realized that and [took] the politics out of it.”
He’s right, but here’s the problem. If the rules allowed greater time to be spent at the facility working with coaches, some coaches would abuse the situation and pressure players who maybe don’t want to spend quite as much time at work as the coach wants them to spend at work. To guard against violations that possibly would be undetected and unenforced, the league and the NFLPA have created bright-line rules that hurt everyone.
So why not allow players to spend more time in the offseason working with coaches, and create clear limits with clear penalties for those who squeeze players into doing too much? Having structure helps keep plenty of players out of trouble. Having organized learning sessions helps young players (especially quarterbacks) develop.
Put simply, players should be given the chance to behave as what they are — professionals. And the league and the NFLPA should be ready and willing to hold accountable coaches who violate the boundaries of professionalism by putting too much pressure on players to choose to do more than they really want to do.