Do NFL offseason programs have value?

Every year at this time, we begin to look at the process and value of NFL offseason programs. Players who don’t show up on time, such as Monday’s first causality, Raiders QB JaMarcus Russell, are thrown under the bus for what’s supposed to be a “voluntary activity” inside team facilities.

But as we’ve discussed many times in the past, these workouts are far from voluntary. In fact, in some buildings and under some head coaches and coordinators, they can be considered mandatory.

In places such as Washington, with a new coach in Mike Shanahan, attendance will be monitored and opinions will be formed by the new coaching staff about players such as Clinton Portis and Albert Haynesworth.

Players will tell you that these four days a week at the facility are dry, boring and, most of the time, a nuisance to the offseason lifestyle of an NFL athlete. But they do have a purpose. And having attended plenty under plenty of different regimes, I know the value is there.

I talked to an NFC coach at length about his offseason program, and he had no problem saying that attendance was crucial to not only the success of his team but the final roster as well. You show a coach that you don’t care about the development of the team in March, April and May, and you make it easier for that coach to let you go come August.

However, we know that doesn’t apply to certain players — big-money players — and that’s where the stories start to pour in. Just like Russell, there will be others who either opt to train at home or just stay away altogether. And because of that, we will draw conclusions that they have some sort of issue with the coach, the front office, etc. Most likely, however, they just don’t want to be there.

The weight-room work and the on-field conditioning — plus speed work — is pretty standard and not up to par with what these players are used to in their college strength programs or their personal offseason trainers. And players do feel they’re not getting the best workout possible.

But the work in the meeting rooms, with your teammates in the film room and on the field in drill work is invaluable. Time to self-scout yourself, and time to get together with your position group in those dim rooms and start to study divisional opponents, begin to really understand tendencies and what to expect from certain coordinators. That doesn’t happen during the season, when there’s no time to relax, no time to study like you can in the spring and no time to self-scout in a way that’s beneficial.

Quarterbacks throwing to receivers, defensive backs working on their footwork and so on. The work that can be done together with your teammates in the spring does carry over to the regular season.

And lets not forget that they’re part of the job for these players — no matter how much they bitch at this time of year.

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