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What do NFL players do when the season ends?

Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz explains a couple different scenarios for players.

Cleveland Browns v Chicago Bears Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

The NFL season has ended for 20 teams, approximately 1,100 players, active and on injured reserve. What happens in the days and weeks right after the season for the players? What is life like after our schedules have been planned out for months during the season?

Since the start of training camp, almost every day is scripted for us. Even the off days, we might have treatment, or you might head into the weight room for some extra work. You’re at the facility almost every day for five months. The final day of the season starts off the same, with a scheduled team exit meeting.

The first order of business when you show up to the facility before the exit meeting is cleaning out your locker. Find yourself a trash bag, load it up with the gear you want to keep. Shirts, sweats, cleats, and gym shoes. All items to give to family or to wear in offseason workouts. Some teams allow you to grab your helmet and uniforms. Some gift them to you, others charge for those items. I can’t figure out why it’s not all free to the players. There are trash bins all around the locker room to clear out the things you don’t want to keep, as well as a shoe bin to donate any shoes.

The mood in the locker room while this is happening can depend on how the season ended. Teams are either just glad their bad season is over because it didn’t go well, or disappointed their season ended in a miserable fashion, like Ravens and losing out on a playoff bid.

If you’re a team expecting the end of the season, the mood is light and loose. Guys are taking about offseason plans and can’t wait to get out of there and start the offseason. If you’ve just lost out on a playoff spot or a playoff game, the locker room is solemn and quiet. Guys reminiscing about the last game.

I remember entering the locker room in 2013 after we (the Chiefs) blew a 38-10 third quarter lead. Guys were quietly discussing the loss, mostly thinking “what if we made a play here or there?”

Quite a different vibe than teams that knew their season was ending weeks ago.

A major part of the final morning is the medical. The medical can set up your offseason. If you’re healthy, you just sign a form saying you’re healthy and move on. If you’re injured, you meet with the doctor and the athletic training staff to figure out a plan for the offseason.

Some players will need surgery. Others will need some rehab. One important discussion between player and staff is figuring out where that rehab will be done. Some teams prefer doing all the rehab in house, while others allow you to leave and finish the rehab at a facility near your offseason residence. Of course players prefer the latter option. Most players and their families have offseason residences that aren’t in the same city as their current team. For example, I lived in Charlotte during the offseason, even when I played in Minnesota, Kansas City, and New York.

After you clean out your locker, you have the team exit meeting. These can be interesting. Win or lose, the head coach will thank you for your effort and all the hours you’ve put in. If the coach will be back, he might give you a short preview of the schedule in April when you return. You will get an offseason workout packet from the strength coach.

If the coach has been fired, as was the case in Carolina with John Fox, the coach will say their goodbyes and you’re off. In New York, I was there for Tom Coughlin’s last meeting. As usual, the coach was blunt with us about his situation and didn’t sound like a guy who was ready to stop coaching. He had yet to speak with the ownership about his situation. That meeting was tense. I remember walking around and thinking there was no way Coughlin was ready to be finished with coaching.

After the team meeting, it’s time to meet individually with your position coach or coordinator and possibly the head coach. This is when you’re allowed to be honest about the season. I hope players take that opportunity, because the coaches will be honest with you. I’ve had offensive line coaches question me before, and I’ve fired it back at them. It’s also a time to discuss offseason plans, where you will be training, and if you’re a free agent, how to proceed.

Once you leave the facility, your obligation to the team is finished until report date. It’s an odd feeling driving away, headed off to wherever the offseason takes you. This weight, all the stress from the season, feels lifted. Your body might still be hurting, but it’s the first time in months you’re able to mentally relax.

The following morning is always the weirdest. You wake up with nothing to do. You’ve spent months having a schedule, and now you have none. Maybe you’re flying home or loading the car to drive back. Or you’re just enjoying a day with nothing to do. I’d normally sleep all day. Just mentally take a break from it all.

The NFL season is wonderful, but it’s tough, it’s a grind, and it can be mentally draining. Once the offseason starts, you can to finally relax and enjoy the long break, which I’m sure everyone does!

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