Before even playing in a preseason game, San Francisco 49ers rookie Solomon Thomas spoke out against one of the NFL’s rules.
The NFL does not allow rookies to participate in any practices until the school year is out. With Stanford staying in school until June, this kept Thomas from OTA participation. Thomas spoke out against the rule on PFT Live and expressed sympathy for undrafted rookies looking to earn a roster spot.
“It was so frustrating,” Thomas said on the show, via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. “It was extremely annoying. The rule doesn’t make sense. I really hope they take it out for other athletes that have to go through it, especially those who weren’t draft picks because that hurts them even more, they can’t even show off at OTAs. So that hurts them even more. So I really hope they take this rule away and just let the guys go.”
As Smith noted, even players who are no longer students are prohibited. He also pointed out that “the NFL says its rule is designed to keep players from dropping out of college,” which is complicated.
This isn’t just a matter of restricting the players’ ability to make choices for themselves. But if players were suddenly allowed to drop out and attend camp, that would almost become an expectation. Those who opted to stay in school would risk being looked down on by at least some coaches for not being committed enough.
If someone in Thomas’ spot wanted to drop out of school to go to OTAs, it wouldn’t be a big problem. As the No. 3 pick in the draft, Thomas isn’t fighting for a roster spot. Even if he ends up as a complete bust, his spot on the 49ers, and the NFL in general, is likely secure for at least a few years. That will bring a fair amount of financial security. So, he wouldn’t feel the potential side effects of dropping out of school.
But ironically enough, the people who would need the extra time the most are the ones who would also be hurt the most by dropping out of school. An un-drafted rookie certainly doesn’t have a roster spot guaranteed. Thomas is right, those people could use the extra time to show off. But they are also the ones who would most need the college diploma, too. If they don’t make it in a year or maybe two, chances are that their NFL careers will be completely over.
Perhaps the NFL can find middle ground. An idea would be to say that if players are drafted (or at least drafted by a certain point), they can do what they want. The other players would then stay in school until the academic year is over, putting themselves on a more level playing field.
That would allow some players a chance to move on into the next phase of their lives, while also protecting those who’d want to stay in school.