NFL taking rookie orientation to local level

The NFL is changing the way its handles what is essentially the rookie orientation program.

For years, the NFL has held its rookie symposium in one location and limited it to draft picks. This year, the format changes to individual teams hosting their own rookie orientation, with the format approved by the league. The three-day sessions will be held at team facilities and can be customized to their own local needs. It will also include drafted and undrafted rookies.

Team officials are welcoming the change.

“This new orientation program is a win-win because it allows us to give every rookie the benefit of resources from the league that will contribute to success both on and off the field,” Miami Dolphins Director of Player Engagement Kaleb Thornhill said in an NFL release announcing the change. “It also brings onboarding home to our club’s heritage and culture, and the resources and relationships available in our community.”

NFC clubs will host their rookie orientations from June 20-22 and AFC clubs will conduct them from June 22-24.

Mandatory topics will include social responsibility, respect at work, mental health, character and values, and player engagement resources, the NFL announced. Teams will also cover topics like player health and safety, a review of player policies and resources, working with the news media in the age of social media, financial education, and playing rule changes from college to the pros.

“The ability to expose our entire rookie class, regardless of whether you were drafted or not, to this program will increase the chances of a smooth and successful entry into the NFL,” said Green Bay Packers Director of Player Engagement Rob Davis. “To introduce the rookies in such a profound way to some of our former players that can serve as mentors and role models is an exciting concept.”

Teams can now include sessions on the history and culture of their franchise, use their own former players to educate rookies and potentially start mentoring programs between alumni and rookies.

The Rams already conducted a special session with their players about the club’s relocation from St. Louis to Los Angeles, and that additional time with the players was approved by the NFL Players Association.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell may have hinted at the changes in the orientation program last month when referencing the Rams’ extra off-the-field session with players and how there could be some potential to expand beyond the rookie program.

“The context is could we do that? Could we expand our player engagement programs to give them more opportunities to focus on life skills on ways in which they could look beyond the game of football and improve themselves, improve their lives and communities?” Goodell said. “So that is something that we will continue to have dialogue with the union. It is a CBA issue, but we think there’s some real possibility there and I think the coaches were real articulate on that (at the owners meetings in March).”

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