Is the CBA hurting young players?

When the group of veteran player reps sat down with the NFL to negotiate a long-term labor agreement in 2011, a big focus for players was putting more safeguards in the CBA to protect their bodies. Jeff Saturday and his team of 30+ year old players were successful in limiting practice schedules, reducing contact, eliminating two–a-day padded practices during camp and shrinking the off season organized team activities (OTAs). The spirit of their efforts was to take their bodies out of harms way by spelling out how many times coaches can access players on the field and by putting a definitive cap on full padded/contact practices.

The result: A huge win for veteran players!

Only time will tell if we have indeed reduced injuries and prolonged the career span of the NFL player.

But in just three years we do know this: 1) A reduced salary structure for rookies and players with less than four years of experience are fiscally more attractive than pricey veterans. 2) There are younger players on rosters seeing the field with less preparation than they had prior to 2011. 3) Young QBs are really struggling. 4) We are seeing more penalties, especially from younger players.

Is this the result of the changes made to the CBA as it relates to fewer teaching opportunities? A lot of coaches and front office execs think so.

Many coaches I talk to are very frustrated with the lack of time they get with teaching young players on the field. As one NFL head coach put it to me, “I had to force myself and my staff to become more patient and tolerate the growing pains of rookie players on game day.” Another AFC offensive line coach told me, “I was able to drill my young players for hours and days without risking injury and having contact. Now I can barely get my hands on them. I’ll still develop them but it will take longer.”

As for the 2011 CBA resulting in fewer injuries, it will be hard to tell. For one, more players are being more conservative by reporting injuries and missing more practices and games. Many players in the past were scared to report injuries because they were afraid they would eventually be released being damaged goods.

As a side note, one veteran client thinks more players are getting hurt because meeting times have increased significantly in lieu of practice time. He said, “Seems like we go from hours of sitting down in meetings, then practice, then hours of sitting down again. The longer we sit we can feel our bodies get stiffer and stiffer. I would prefer we be more active without hitting”.

With no two a day padded practices during camp (which definitely had to go) and only ten days of OTA practices (organized team activities), NFL coaching staffs are extremely limited in their ability to develop younger players. For layman’s, imagine this scenario: A rookie wide receiver asks his coach prior to the official offseason workout program to go out on the field to work on his routes. The coach has to say NO, because if he took the player out on the field and walked through routes for thirty minutes it would be a violation of the CBA.

Young players need to get on the field with their coaches in the off-season and even after practice. Young players want to get some extra technical work and coaches want to coach them up. But it can’t and won’t happen. If we had better prepared young players, which teams are keeping anyway, we will also see cleaner football on Sundays, especially from the QBs.

So what can we do?

Many would like to see some coaches and the competition committee propose some additional non-padded/non contact practice sessions for players with less than four credited seasons. For example, there may be ten one hour sessions between April 15 and June 20. Then, an additional five sessions during camp and about fourteen during the season (no more than 2 per week and no longer than 60 minutes).

Young players want to be coached and need to be coached. Those coaching staffs that are loaded with good teachers will definitely have an advantage over those who don’t.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone and thanks for reading.

What am I thankful for? I’m thankful for….

Getting to watch players like Steve Smith who play football the way it should be played, to the echo of the whistle, going hard on every play and being physical.

Representing America loving blue collar studs like Pat Angerer, Al Harris, Earl Dotson, Eric Steinbach, Todd Rucci, Tim Dwight and Kelly Gregg who are now retired, and many others). These guys did it the right way and left a huge wake of respect on every field they ever touched. Pleasure was all mine.

That the football world has finally woke up and quit ignoring the severity and dangers of concussions.

That college football finally has a playoff system. Amen!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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