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Not quite two weeks ago, I reported that I thought the NFL’s 2020 “New League Year”/Free Agency should begin on time, that the NFL’s Draft extravaganza in Las Vegas would be cancelled and the Draft itself was likely to be postponed to some date after its scheduled April 23-25 timeframe.
All three reports were based on conversations with a number of NFL coaches, general managers and scouts and both what they were hearing and what they expected.
The NFL has since stated the Draft will take place as originally scheduled.
On Wednesday, ESPN’s and former Pro Football Weekly reporter Adam Schefter — who, for my money, has become far and away the best in the business and most trusted source available when it comes to breaking NFL news — also reported that the league’s general managers are lobbying to delay the actual Draft.
While I realize it has been trivial at best and troublesome to some that the NFL has gone about the business of free agency balanced against the real world life and death issues everyone of us are currently trying to handle in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, I applaud the NFL for its decision.
For millions of fans it has provided a pleasant, entertaining and much-needed distraction at a time when our mental health becomes a greater struggle and more and more important with each passing day.
Now let’s talk about the practical side of things.
Unlike the Draft, anything teams needed to learn about potential free agents could be gleaned from their four or more years of NFL game tape and the grapevine that supplies more than enough information about players’ personalities, makeup and quirks from trusted sources.
With none of the contracts becoming binding until there is some return to normalcy and players can travel and pass physicals, clean phone lines were really all teams have needed to make their decisions.
The Draft is a whole different animal.
I believe most teams that struggle with the Draft suffer from over-analysis and placing too much emphasis on things other than game tape, which is really the only way they can watch these kids play football.
But, without the ability to conduct pro days, in-person workouts, interviews and additional physicals, when it comes to college prospects, team decision makers know just a fraction of what they know about veteran free agents.
Plus, should a team draft a player and then have him flunk a physical, there has to be some compensation paid or the player would have every right to sue that team for taking away his ability to be drafted by another team and that draft choice, an extremely valuable commodity in today’s NFL is lost forever.
Beyond those realities, there is a practical side to this that is also being ignored.
Turning the Draft into TV shows with no live event is no big deal – although I’m sure the 32 owners will disagree because of significant lost revenue.
But with each of the 32 teams in four weeks almost certainly still having an obligation to its employees not to force them to gather in groups or close contact, legendary team “Draft War Rooms” would most likely have to be scrapped.
Forcing each G.M. to work in 10- seven-, five- and four-minute time limits depending on the round either on his own or with his team scattered all over the place and needing to communicate via phone or Internet is practically punitive.
I admire the NFL’s seeming instinct to put its fans enjoyment first, but in this case what’s the hurry, and is that really what the league is doing?
Causing teams to operate under-prepared and possibly in dangerous conditions will guarantee mistakes are made that will eventually hurt the product and upset fans once the full effect is realized.
As much as I can’t wait for the Draft, it’s time to be realistic about what’s best for all.
At the end of the day when it comes to the most popular offseason event in all of professional sports, isn’t it much more important to get it right than it is to get it now?