At the Maxwell Club festivities in Atlantic City Friday, I got in a quick word with Eagles guard Evan Mathis. I asked Mathis what he knows about the blocking system he'll be working in under new offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. Mathis said he knows virtually nothing about it, that he and Stoutland are prohibited from any but the most general discussions right now, at this point in the offseason.
It wasn't the first time I'd gotten that response. Michael Vick says he doesn't know anything about the offense. The defensive guys are under the impression they're working out of some sort of 3-4, don't know details. One would think this would be an excellent time for the new coaching staff to sit down with the players and cover the basic concepts of the new systems, so the team can hit the ground running next month, when it gets that extra organized team activity work granted to squads with new coaches.
But one would be wrong. Outside the agents' meeting at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, I heard a fair amount of grumbling about the Collective Bargaining Agreement that ended the NFL lockout in time for the 2011 season to be played. With the salary cap virtually flat this year, agents don't seem to think the NFLPA did a great job on the money end. What the union did get were a whole bunch of nonmonetary offseason restrictions.
Article 21 of the CBA says, among a lot of other things, that until the official start of the offseason workout program, "players are not permitted to participate in club-supervised practices, group or individual meetings with coaches, group or individual film study with coaches, or group or individual playbook study with coaches."
An NFL spokesman said Monday that the Eagles could, for example, send out material to players for them to study on their own, even if they couldn't then meet with the players to discuss it. I'm guessing the Eagles feel sending out playbooks would be tricky, with it unclear exactly who is going to be on the team. So this lack of a running start is at least partly the team's fault; Howie Roseman spoke at the Combine about how not letting anybody know anything might provide a tiny edge against other teams, going into free agency and the draft.
Offseason rules were indeed something the NFLPA membership cared about going into the lockout. Minicamps and OTAs had really grown to dominate the offseason, increasing the chance of injury, sapping strength from older, veteran legs trying to eke out another year or two in harness. It's unclear a lot of players were really bent out of shape about meetings and film study, but the owners seemed willing to give the union pretty much whatever it asked for in this area, because restricting workouts didn't cost the owners anything. It might have left the coaches scrambling, but they weren't at the bargaining table.
The result is an unwieldy setup. There is no good reason why Vick and Nick Foles shouldn't be able to meet with their new coaches and get a grounding in what they're going to be asked to do this spring, get some direction for their private workouts. (I have heard that Vick might think he needs to "bulk up" to run the read option. And I am willing to bet that is not what Chip Kelly wants Vick to do, at all.) Ditto Mathis, Danny Watkins, Todd Herremans, Jason Kelce and Jason Peters. Onfield work with coaches? No. But I can't see any great harm coming from a series of discussions.
These guys make a lot of money. They presumably have been working out on their own, but officially, they haven't worked a day in 2013, since the Birds didn't make the playoffs, as you might recall. In the discussions I've had with players about the new coaching staff, I have yet to hear anybody say, "thank heaven they can't make me learn anything yet." Mostly I hear frustration, eagerness to get started. But that's not happening this month.