The NFL's 12th annual rookie symposium was held last week in Carlsbad, Calif. Every player selected in the 2008 draft (252 total) was in attendance as league officials, former players and others set out to teach this year's rookie crop about the dos and don'ts of NFL life.
Were the messages delivered? Is this type of setting effective? Our experts examine the symposium in this installment of Third and Short.
Paul Kuharsky: How much responsibility does the NFL have to develop the character of rookies and how much is on the players themselves?
NFL players, even first-year guys, should be responsible and come into the league understanding the importance of good character and decision-making. Plenty of coaches preach that the best ability is availability, and players who get caught up in off-the-field incidents face suspensions under the league's personal conduct policy as well as discipline if they violate the league's policies against drugs and performance enhancers.
Still, based on what teams invest in these players, it is good business that the league do everything possible to set them on the correct course. The league and its teams are smart to provide as many resources as possible for players to call on. There are plenty of players who soaked up information at the rookie symposium and will use it in the weeks, months and years to come, even if others were nodding off and bemoaning the fact that they had to listen to so much advice.
Obviously, if a player gets in trouble, it's his decisions that got him there and dealing with the consequences is his responsibility. The league and teams shouldn't have to hold the hands of their players, teach them how to manage their finances, how to cope with people always asking for things and coach them on where not to hang out. But we've seen over and over again that rookies and veterans alike struggle with those things and many more. So it's not unreasonable to expect the NFL to exert its influence to steer young players in the right direction.
Kevin Seifert: What's the most important topic to be addressed with rookies?
The NFL places a high priority on personal conduct, with good reason, but most rookies presumably have been hearing that message for much of their lives. One issue that many rookies never consider -- and then never think through once it occurs to them -- is financial management.
The minimum salary for an NFL rookie this season is $295,000. Based on a biweekly pay periods over the standard 17-week regular season, a rookie will gross at least $34,705 in each paycheck. Suffice it to say, that figure should carry an average 22-year-old through the year.
But it's amazing how many NFL players (and those in other sports as
well) have almost no cash flow during the offseason.
In conjunction with the NFL and NFL Players Association, most teams offer financial advice through their player program departments. Not enough players pay attention, however. In this case, many of the stereotypes are true: Many NFL players spend all the money they make, and then some, during careers that are often shorter than they anticipated.
I've known rookies who thought their contracts were fully guaranteed.
I covered another rookie who looked good in minicamp and was considered a possible starter entering training camp. He bought a $50,000 truck on credit and then didn't make the team.
Even the smart players need help with budgeting, dealing with the inevitable tug of less fortunate family members and understanding where to invest their excess cash. Some turn to unscrupulous financial advisers, another danger that the NFL and its teams can help players avoid.
Consider Minnesota Vikings nose tackle Pat Williams, who has a contract that pays him an average of $7.3 million per season.
Williams' financial adviser, who has worked with him for more than a decade, puts him on a budget of $5,000 per month for spending money.
Yes, that is a healthy sum, but it has allowed Williams to set up his family for life. He has also opened a highly successful auto detailing company.
Personal conduct is the most visible NFL initiative for rookies, but teaching them to deal with their newfound riches is no less important.
James Walker: Will league misconduct be curbed in future seasons thanks to these programs?
Yes. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell increasingly is taking a hard-line stance on player misconduct, and now incoming rookies have a chance to see the ramifications ahead of time before entering the league.
Professional athletes can lose sight of many things. But two things players value most are playing time and money, and Goodell has proved he is willing to take both away for poor behavior.
Whether players should be penalized more games for off-the-field misconduct -- such as taking HGH -- than on-the-field cheating certainly is debatable. But no one can argue that increasing the penalty for transgressions away from the field over the past couple seasons was the right thing to do.
The rookie symposium is only a piece to the puzzle, but it is a great tool that shows the league is being proactive in its approach. Also, the addition of having every rookie visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year was a nice touch to the program that has increased awareness in NFL rookies and their appreciation for the game.
You are never going to stop all player misconduct in any league. But all of these efforts combined will go a long way to help the NFL in the future.