With the NFL draft now complete, roster building season for all NFL clubs has reached its primary endpoint. Sure, there are still some free agents whose services remain up for grabs, but for now, all rosters are pretty set heading into training camp. The next big opportunity for teams to upgrade their roster will come around the roster cutdown date at the end of training camp. No more major free agent contracts will be signed, and no more draft cards will be turned in. For all 32 teams and their fan bases, barring a major trade, what you see currently is what you’re going to get – that is, until roster cutdown time.
What lies ahead for all teams and players, while not as publicly visible as free agency or the draft, is essential. Now, we see which teams have the most effective day-to-day processes and operations in how they go about getting the most out of their players and team. While all NFL teams are only guaranteed a football game on 17 days a year, how they operate 365 days a year and the processes that are implemented from the top down largely have an impact on what the rest of us see on those 17 given days.
One of Bill Parcells’ most well-known sayings for how he wanted his teams to go about their business was “NATO” – as you can probably imagine, he wasn’t talking about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Parcells’ version of NATO stood for “not attached to outcomes.”
The idea behind this acronym was that regardless of what happens on the field, in order to win and be successful over the long haul, the processes and day-to-day operation must have a clear vision and function at an extremely high level – with everyone in that building pulling in the same direction.
Parcells wanted the process to be emphasized over results with an understanding that if the processes were right, the results would certainly follow. The margin for error in the NFL is so small that every little detail and every day can make a difference in winning or losing and ultimately, jobs being lost, or jobs being kept.
So, what all does this entail? Well, first of all, synchronization within all aspects of a team’s football operation is vital. Inside an NFL building, there are many moving parts. On a daily basis, the coaching staff, training staff, strength staff, and other members of the support staff are working with the players, making it ever important for everyone to be on the same page. Ultimately, the goal for all 32 teams is the same: to develop their players at a high level and get the most out of them on Sundays, resulting in wins.
When talking about player development, historically speaking, some teams just simply do a better job than others. Every player that was acquired in free agency or drafted is among the top 1% of football players in the world. Last weekend, 261 total draft picks were made. Upon turning in the card for that given pick, every decision maker ultimately believed their selection was a good one. But as we know, that is never the case. All 261 players will not be successful playing NFL football. Some will not last long, while others will turn into All-Pros and eventual Hall of Famers. The same concept applies to free agency; not all decisions and big money deals will work out favorably, and other deals will look like bargains.
How and why players fail to perform for the team that so heavily believed in them when acquired is the fascinating part. Here’s where player development and those aforementioned day-to-day processes come into play. Each player will require a different amount of attention in all areas of their development — both on and off the field.
Some come in with their body and physical development a little behind others at their position. This primarily applies to rookies but can also apply to veteran free agent signings who might be a little out of shape reporting back to their team.
Other players can struggle to learn and pick up the playbook quickly – something the coaching staff must take on in order to get that player up to speed so that he can allow his physical and athletic talents to shine.
Meanwhile, for rookies or free agent signings that just signed their first big extension, there could be some adjustment off the field in learning how to navigate those waters that they so fortunately, and deservedly, find themselves in.
The teams that develop their players the best are the ones that identify what specifically is required for that player to be successful – and they start the process of ensuring that takes place over the long haul. Of course, there is only so much the staff within an NFL building can do. Some things just don’t work out for reasons that are out of a team’s control. Obviously, a player himself must be bought in and must commit to the rigors of what the NFL entails. NFL football players are not only the best at what they do but are among the best athletes on the planet.
The glamorous and exciting parts of the off-season for all 32 teams and their fans is now over. While not publicly visible, the attention now shifts to what takes place inside the building each day moving forward. Given all the different variables and people that will have an impact on wins and losses, a unified vision is a must. Ultimately, each team will only be judged based on the games that they’re guaranteed – and deservedly so. After all, it’s a bottom-line business.
The road to get to that point is a long and winding one, and it starts and ends every single day within the many processes that make up the operation of an NFL building. Chief among those is that club’s ability to develop their players and maximize their talent to formulate a winning product. Player’s ultimately drive results – but in a business where the margin for error is razor thin, the “HOW” and the “WHY” every single day make a world of difference.