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NFL working to change rule preventing draft picks from joining team before final exams

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The 49ers would have benefited significantly from this the past three years.

NFL Draft Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The past three years, the San Francisco 49ers have spent at least one first round pick on players from the Pac-12. That list has included Solomon Thomas (Stanford), DeForest Buckner (Oregon), Joshua Garnett (Stanford), and Arik Armstead (Oregon). In making those selections, twice the 49ers have been stuck waiting for them to join the team in the offseason workout program.

The NFL has long had an antiquated rule that requires draft picks either be graduated or through their final exams before they can join their team in the offseason workout program. Most schools have final exams in early to mid May, but much of the Pac-12 operates on a quarter system. That results in finals happening in June, thus preventing players from joining the team.

Now, the league might finally be making a change to the rule. NFL.com reporter Tom Pelissero is reporting the NFL and American Football Coaches Association are working to overhaul the rule. The change would allow players to join their teams on a mutually agreed upon date. Players could get time set side to finish exams, and teams would be forbidden from telling a player that offseason activities are mandatory, or otherwise persuade them to leave school.

Here’s a rundown of what Pelissero learned about the potential change.

Under the new rule, all rookies would be permitted to join their teams on a mutually agreed upon date, on or around May 16. If a rookie is still enrolled and his final exams are not complete, those still taking online classes would be allotted time to complete them; those enrolled in traditional classes would be allowed to return to campus for exams; and graduate students and those who completed coursework early could fully participate in offseason activities.

Rookies would still be able to stay in school through their final exams, and club employees will be forbidden by rule from telling a player offseason activities (AKA the Rookie Football Development Program) are mandatory or persuading them to leave school. Teams' player engagement directors and each school's academic advisors would jointly monitor players' academic progress. Players would continue to be permitted to participate in commencement ceremonies, too.