John Harbaugh wants longer offseason to help younger players

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh is encouraging the expansion of the NFL's offseason program for younger players in the wake of cornerback Tray Walker's death.

Harbaugh believes the league and the players' union should alter the offseason rules to allow second- and third-year players to stay close to the team facilities during this time of year.

Walker died last week after being critically injured in a dirt bike accident in his hometown of Liberty City, Florida. He was 23.

"I hope the league and the union can take this tragic event and find common ground for the younger players in this league," Harbaugh said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. "Three months is a long time to be away, I think, for some of the guys especially. It's the guys who need it the most, the guys who don't come from a great situation at home. They don't have nowhere to go for three months, so they go home. They go back to where they have worked so hard to pull themselves out of."

Before the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, Walker would've had voluntary offseason programs to attend in Baltimore in March. But the league and the players' union reduced the offseason program by five weeks in the agreement that ended the lockout five years ago.

Now the offseason program typically starts in the middle of April.

Harbaugh's one suggestion is to have voluntary weight training instruction set up by the strength and conditioning coaches. It would give players a free place to work out and encourage players to remain in the area.

"We're their new anchor in a lot of ways. We're their family," Harbaugh said. "It just makes a lot of sense that we need to do everything we can to bridge the transition for a lot of guys who are coming from the backgrounds they come from."

The players' union wanted these limitations on offseason workouts because they insulate players from coaches who annually pushed them in classrooms, conditioning and on-field sessions for nearly four months before training camps opened in late July. From the union's standpoint, lower demands on the offseason allow players to rest their bodies and use the free time to go back to school or spend time with families.

But Harbaugh thinks the rules can be amended for younger players with the hope that another tragedy can be avoided.

"It seems like a real simple step that we can take all together," Harbaugh said.

Walker's funeral is scheduled for Saturday in Miami. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is working on chartering a plane for anyone in the organization who wants to fly from Baltimore to attend the service, Harbaugh said.