You just got that special call from a NFL team — “Welcome to the team, you’ve just been drafted.”
Or maybe it’s from your agent — “I’ve got you an undrafted free agent offer with a team.”
After all the elation of this amazing moment is over, the texts are answered and you’ve tweeted about your excitement, what happens next? If you’re a seventh-round draft pick from Los Angeles, you might look up what city the Panthers play in. That happened. But, where you’re playing is the least of your concerns.
Welcome to your new home
The new CBA has changed some of the procedures of the offseason, but it’s generally still the same. First order of business is doing the media rounds. If you’re a high draft pick, you’re flown immediately to the facility for a press conference, a tour of your new home and the chance to meet the staff. That first day is a whirlwind. It can be overwhelming.
Next, it’s off to the equipment room to get fitted for gear and your new number. For most, getting the number you want is uber important. If you’re a top draft pick, you’re almost guaranteed to get your number. If your number is being taken by a lower level player on the roster, they just change their number and give it to you. Sometimes a deal needs to take place to buy the number from a veteran. Those can be expensive but worth it for peace of mind.
For most of us, our first journey to our new home is for rookie minicamp. I had a five-hour flight from Los Angeles to Charlotte. I was anxious and nervous. We had a full team mini camp, instead of a rookie camp (which was allowed back then). I was heading straight into the beast.
I barely remember my first weekend. We had two double days, followed by a single practice to end the weekend. As rookies, we meet extra. Learning the playbook is the easiest way to get on the good side of the coaches. Coaches love consistency and players who they don’t have to worry about. My goal that first weekend was too show the coaches could rely on me.
When it was done, I flew home and slept for two days, exhausted.
Rookies have the same schedule with rookie minicamp. It must feel easier than doing it with the veterans. This is when you first form your relationships with the other rookies. Typically your best friends on the team, at least for the first year, are the guys in your draft class. You spend the most time with them and y’all can relate to each other.
Besides work on the field and meetings, rookies will start learning the strength program their first weekend. It’s just an intro to the weight room, but the staff must start to understand your strengths and weaknesses.
Rookie minicamp now blends into the OTAs. I always enjoyed meeting the rookies after their minicamp. They were so young and excited for the opportunity. I could tell most of them were nervous, so I felt it was important to welcome them to the team and take away some of that anxiety, just like veterans did with me. For the young players, when the veterans come into the facility and start meeting with them, it’s important to start taking note of how they go about their business. How do the most successful guys lift, take notes in the meeting room, and handle their bodies?
Practice and more meetings
Then comes the most stressful and difficult part of the transition into the NFL — practices. Things move fast. The players are quicker, stronger, and already polished.
If you’re a lower draft pick, you’re on the third team playing against kids who are in the same position as you. If you’re a high draft pick, you’re thrown right into the mix. Mistakes are understood but not excused. I felt pressure as a seventh-round pick to be perfect and there was almost no pressure put on me from the staff. I remember thinking about the pressure our first-round tackle, Jeff Otah, had on him to perform well right away, and it made me loosen up a bit.
Most days for the veterans are simple. They are in the facility for four to six hours. Not the rookies. The rookies are there all day. It’s meetings, practice, more meetings, lifting, player development meetings and so on. The player development meetings cover all sorts of topics. Finance, real estate, money managing etc. They are essential for just basic knowledge coming from college, where everything is handled for you, to living on your own for the first time.
The job during the offseason is Monday through Friday. That leaves the weekend to explore the city. I loved this time when I was young. We went all over the city. We went out at night. We all enjoyed not being in college. It was such a fun time.
The nine weeks of the offseason program are just a part of the mentally straining rookie season, which seems to last forever. You’re essentially going strong for a year and a half years. It starts in August of your senior season, all the way to the end of your rookie year — the last college season, combine training, pro day training, the draft, offseason workouts, summer practice, training camp, and the regular season. Once you’ve made it through all of that, then you finally get to take deep a breath and rest.