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CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Tighter offseason work rules bugging coaches -- and maybe players

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New coaches like Indy's Chuck Pagano face tougher obstacles getting their systems installed. (US Presswire)  
New coaches like Indy's Chuck Pagano face tougher obstacles getting their systems installed. (US Presswire)  

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The new NFL offseason rules make no sense. Coaches can't coach. Players can't play -- at least not at the team facility.

The new collective bargaining agreement limits almost everything players and coaches can do, and it's driving coaches crazy.

Things are so restrictive now that if a quarterback wanted to get a football from the team equipment room, and throw to a receiver on the team's field, he would be in violation of the new policy.

"That is unusual, now," Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey said. "I hope that will get changed. Hopefully, we do a better job of allowing guys to get better at their trade where they are employed."

As it is now, two players can't be on the team's field together working out or it's a CBA violation, which could lead to fines and penalties. So if two players want to throw the football together they have to go to a field on their own. If they want to sprint together, working on conditioning, they have to do it away from the facility.

New Raiders coach Dennis Allen says coaches and players will adjust to new rules, then adjust them. (Getty Images)  
New Raiders coach Dennis Allen says coaches and players will adjust to new rules, then adjust them. (Getty Images)  
The rules were put in to help cut down the offseason for the players who badly wanted it included in the CBA that helped end the lockout last summer, but I've heard from several players who say the rules go too far.

Limiting the offseason is one thing, but when a quarterback and receiver can't even come to the facility and get a football to use, that's a bit much.

"I know why they did it," said one coach. "To stop the guys who were abusing it. But they penalized all of us."

The NFL offseason is now broken down into three parts for the players and coaches. Phase one is two weeks, limited to strength and conditioning activities, with only strength and conditioning coaches on the field.

Phase two is three weeks of individual and "perfect play" drills (no offense vs. defense), and all coaches are allowed on the field.

Phase three is four weeks of OTA and a limit of 10 practices, three days of minicamp practices, which are mandatory.

Teams can start Phase One of the offseason program April 16, but new coaches will be able to start next week, getting a two-week head start. "It's very difficult," Jacksonville Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey said. "It's frustrating, to say the least, that you can't talk football when you know the players wants to talk football."

If a player comes to the facility to work out now, a coach is not permitted to speak with him about football. A strength coach can't even encourage a kid to do more reps.

Any violation of these rules would subject the coach to a $100,000 fine and the team a $250,000 fine.

"It's different," Gailey said. "Like anything else, if it's different coaches have a hard time with it. We had a hard time with training camp last year because it was different. We're having a hard time with the offseason because it's different."

Coaches can send players a playbook. They can also let them watch video. But they can't do it with them. And anything a team sends a player does not have to be returned to the team. In other words, a player who gets cut might have a playbook of some sort in his hands to take to some other team.

"You have to be comfortable that if it gets to the open market that it's not something that can put you at a disadvantage," Mularkey said. "Whatever we handed out, we are comfortable that if another team got it, it wouldn't put us at a competitive disadvantage."

Mularkey was so worried about following the rules that he has the camera on the team's practice field on at all times to monitor whether any players are breaking the rules. Two players throwing a football could cost him $100,000. He also sent several e-mails and hand-written letters to his players to remind them of the rules.

"It's probably harder on them (players)," Mularkey said. "You'd like them to be in an environment you know is right for them and you have personnel there who can monitor them. It's not coaching them. It's making sure they have a safe environment they'd actually like to be in."

Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano is another first-year coach who is slowed by the new rules.

"Prior to the start of the offseason program, it's hard for guys to work on their craft," Pagano said. "You have to pay attention because there's some stiff penalties coming down if you don't."

I asked Texans coach Gary Kubiak if he could imagine being a new coach in this system.

"I could not," Kubiak said. "If you are starting over, just walked into the building, you're trying to get a head start on teaching your system. Teach the guys basic stuff. They come in, lift, do whatever they want to do, but you just can't meet with them. It makes it tough to catch the young guys up."

It's the great tease for coaches. They see their players and can talk to them, but just not about football.

That could be costly.

So is "how's the family?" now code for "what are you working on?"

Raiders first-year coach Dennis Allen said his staff hasn't given the Oakland players anything resembling a playbook or video to watch. They can come in and watch video at the team's facility.

"We'll find ways to adjust," Allen said. "We'll find different teaching methods to get our point across in a smaller period of time. We're going to go through this process, this offseason program. The owners, players, coaches, GMs, we're all going to monitor how this process goes. There will be things the players want to adjust. There will be things the coaches want to adjust. And there will be changes, I suspect, when we get into next offseason."

When a quarterback can't go into his own team's facility, pick up a football or five and throw to his receivers, it has to change.

You can bet when the first player goes down with a season-ending injury from a pothole on some high-school field they chose as their workout field, you know it will change.

This is one area where the new CBA goes way too far.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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