'Finals' rule for rookies should be re-examined
Notes: 'Finals' rule for rookies should be re-examined
By Pete Prisco, SportsLine.com Senior Writer
Imagine you are an NFL rookie, a first-round pick who can't wait to get started on your career.
Your new team is holding workout days in preparation for the coming season, a time for you to learn the offense, get to know the guys and try to figure out what it's like to play a game for a living instead of for fun.
Only you can't be there.
The NFL says so.
A rule adopted a decade or so ago, in consultation with the colleges, says any rookie whose class in school has not finished finals cannot take part in his team's workouts until the finals are completed.
The idea behind the rule is a good one. It's meant to make sure that players who are in school completing work toward their degrees aren't forced by teams to attend workouts.
"We didn't want players dropping out of school and having it blamed on the NFL," said Greg Aiello, the league's vice president of public relations. "It's important to us that we think it's best for these kids to get their educations. We don't want anything to undermine a player's chance to get an education. This rule was drawn up with help from the colleges to help make that possible."
One problem: Many of the high picks are no longer in school during their draft semester. Most take it off to prepare for the draft and the many obligations that come with it.
The NFL can make a stand against these players taking part in the workouts now, but what about all the trips the players take for physicals, workouts and the combine?
The league's coaches tell stories of some players wanting to stay in school for their draft semester but being forced out because of the pre-draft obligations not jibing with their school schedules.
"That's an issue as much as these workouts," said one NFL head coach.
The basis of the rule is good, the idea being that demanding coaches can't force kids out of school to start their careers. The reality of it is not.
"It's something that needs to be looked at," said an AFC coach. "The idea is good, but most of these kids aren't in school anyway. Why should they be held out of workouts they want to be attending because their class hasn't had finals yet? It makes no sense. The rationale is good, but the execution is not."
Coaches tell stories of how players who missed time have a hard time making it up. The on-field work at this time of the year, they say, is invaluable for rookie players.
"You can't make it up," said the AFC coach. "It's lost time."
All around the league, players are losing valuable ground. Players from schools like Ohio State, Washington and UCLA, all with late finals, are not taking part in their team's workouts, aside from the one three-day camp that is allowed after the draft.
While his teammates take part in on-field drills the next couple of weeks, Jaguars receiver Reggie Williams is in Houston working out on his own. His Washington class doesn't complete finals until June 12, which means Williams will miss 11 of the team's 14 workout days.
"It does no good to worry about what we can't control," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio told reporters Monday. "We understand the system."
It's the same all over the league, players unable to attend workouts they know they need. If they did tried, teams would be subject to fines, meaning the players aren't welcome, anyway.
In addition to Washington, Ohio State also has late finals, which means first-round picks Will Smith (New Orleans) and Chris Gamble (Carolina) can't take part in their team's workouts. UCLA is another school in the same situation.
For a player like Gamble, who is considered raw but talented, the missed time will hurt in a big way.
"They can say all they want about making the time up, but you can see the effects when a player isn't there," said the NFC coach. "It hurts more than you know. It make them come into training camp playing catch-up with the guys who were there."
Around the league
When you look around the quarterback landscape in the NFL, it's mind-boggling Kerry Collins, Kurt Warner and Tim Couch are all on the market and none has landed a gig yet. Warner, a two-time MVP for the Rams, has been given permission by the Rams to talk with other teams about a contract and met with the Giants last week. Warner, who will not attend the Rams minicamp this week (as if that was news), will be released June 1, so he technically can't do a deal until then. But agent Mark Bartelstein is trying to get him with a team now anyway, even if a deal can't be finalized. In addition to the Giants, Bartelstein said a few other teams are interested but would not give specifics. The Giants gave Warner a thorough physical and came away with the feeling he was fine. Talk of a bad throwing hand -- or thumb -- is not true. "There is a lot of misinformation about Kurt's health going around," said Bartelstein. "He's as healthy as he's ever been." Yet quarterback-needy teams like Oakland, Arizona, Chicago, San Diego and Miami are sitting back letting the two-time MVP go elsewhere. "Some GM is going to get a big raise because he signs Kurt," said Bartelstein. As for Collins, he canceled a planned trip to Green Bay this week, and the word is it was because he doesn't want to be a backup to Brett Favre. Why should he be? Collins still has starting years left in his body. The Raiders might be the leaders for his services, but the Ravens make the most sense because their backup QB, Anthony Wright, is facing shoulder surgery. There has been talk that the Cowboys are interested in Collins, but that isn't true. Expect Dallas to make a strong push for Vinny Testaverde; New England is also said to be interested in Vinny. As for Couch, he needs to forget about contract issues and find a way to get to Green Bay. If he backs up Favre for a year or two, then becomes the starter, it would be good for his career. Couch is a guy we still feel can play.
The Saints are thrilled with the new-look Donte' Stallworth. In the past two seasons, Stallworth has been slowed by injuries, particularly with a hamstring. The team felt part of that problem stemmed from a lack of commitment to his body. But Stallworth has made major strides in that area this offseason. He has lowered his body fat from 9 percent to 3.5 percent and has dropped 10 pounds from 205 to 195. He is also spending a lot of his time away from the team's facility taking care of himself, doing things like going to special oxygen chambers and spending time in ice. Stallworth has moved into the starting lineup ahead of Jerome Pathon, and the Saints are expecting big things from him. In his two seasons since being a first-round pick in 2002, Stallworth has started just 10 games, playing in a total of 24 because of injuries. He has 67 catches for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns, but only three of those touchdowns came last season, when he started just three games because of hamstring troubles. The Saints coaches feel they are a different team when Stallworth is on the field, his speed allowing them to use the deep ball more. Stallworth averaged 19.4 per catch last season on his 25 grabs, which shows how much of a big-play threat he can be. He also had six catches of 20 or more yards and three of 40-plus yards. "He never has been a guy with a muscled body, but he has it now," said one Saints coach. "He's going to have a big year." The Saints drafted LSU receiver Devery Henderson in the second round this year to get even more speed, but he has had trouble catching the football. He has had a few good days, but he has been inconsistent, which led to his spending time after practice working with the Jugs passing machine.
The Colts didn't address the cornerback position in the draft, but there's a reason. They are high on Joseph Jefferson and Donald Strickland, two younger corners. Jefferson has battled injuries the past two seasons, but the Colts feel he has the skills to be a quality corner. Strickland was forced to play free safety last year when Idrees Bashir battled injuries, but the Colts think he will be a much better corner. And then there's veteran Nick Harper to round out the top three. The move to the younger corners might be risky, but at some point teams have to play the younger kids, especially draft picks. "Those two young corners are just guys," said one AFC scout. "They'll be taking a chance to play those two."
Nice move by Deion Sanders to try to inflate his value on television. Sanders wanted a deal from CBS that averaged $2 million per season --- which is closer to what Fox pays Howie Long and Terry Bradshaw -- but he overplayed his hand. CBS told him to take a hike, then went out and hired Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe for $1 million a season. Sharpe, by the way, was scheduled to make $760,000 from the Broncos this year if he had played, which means he's being paid more to talk than catch passes. As for Sanders, he's peddling a national radio show with Michael Irvin (bet you can't wait). Sanders was glib and opinionated during his CBS studio duties, but expect the same from Sharpe, who will keep it a decibel or two lower.
The Jaguars are thrilled about their new-look secondary. After their recent minicamp and some on-field passing-camp days, the staff is excited about the speed that is now back there compared to a year ago. The team plans to start Deon Grant at free safety, Donovin Darius at strong safety with Rashean Mathis and Juran Bolden at the corners. Grant, a free-agent signing from Carolina, was especially impressive in the team's minicamp, according to the coaches. Bolden has the tools to be a good man cover player, but the coaches want him to work more on his fundamentals, something they are hammering home every day. They feel if he does that, he will be even better. A player to watch is rookie Chris Thompson, a fifth-round pick from Nicholls State. At 6-0, 191 pounds, he was impressive at the team's minicamp and could be in line to push for time as a nickel corner.
Anyone want Packers corner Mike McKenzie? All you need to do is pony up first- and fifth-round picks, and he'll be yours. The Packers are holding true to that asking price and have turned down offers of a second-round pick. But for how long will they do so? McKenzie has made his intentions loud and clear that he wants out of Green Bay, so look for the asking price to come down some. McKenzie also is seeking a new contract, even though he has three years left on his current deal. He hired agent Drew Rosenhaus -- his fifth agent in six years -- to help get him a new deal with a new team. Rosenhaus is respected a bunch in this space, so if he can't make it happen, it's unlikely anybody can. A long-term deal with a new team would also be more cap friendly because McKenzie is set to have a cap figure of $4.08 million this season followed by $4.7 million next season and $5.4 million in 2006. He has already forfeited a $200,000 bonus by not working out with the Packers.
Did you hear the news? Jason Ball is not taking part in the Chargers' voluntary workouts? Who? Ball is the team's starting center, but as an exclusive-rights free agent without a contract, he is not happy with the salary being offered to him by the Chargers. A two-year starter who came into the league as an undrafted rookie, Ball reportedly wants to be paid a salary commensurate with a starting center. But since he is an exclusive-rights player, the Chargers do not have to give him a big contract, nor can he go to another team. Ball should just sign a one-year deal, hit the market next season as a restricted free agent, and then either get paid the high tender or get a big offer from another team and walk away. It does no good to stay away from offseason workouts. The same goes for Plaxico Burress in Pittsburgh and Adewale Ogunleye in Miami.