The NFL last week began the 2020 league year and free agency as scheduled despite internal pushback and logistics concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down the rest of the sports world. Now the league is experiencing similar pressure to reconsider its plan regarding April's NFL Draft.
According to multiple reports, the NFL's general manager subcommittee on a Tuesday night conference call lobbied for commissioner Roger Goodell to move back the draft, which is set to begin Thursday, April 23 and run through Saturday, April 25.
The same reports noted the league currently has no plans to alter its schedule.
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Per ESPN, GMs are concerned "there won't be enough time for player physicals, gathering psychological testing, getting further verified info about players and some teams having to conduct the draft from home." Physicals at team facilities and all draft-related travel were banned due to coronavirus concerns weeks ago, and on Tuesday, Goodell sent a memo stating that all 32 team facilities will be forced to close at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday "with limited exceptions."
Some teams had already closed their facilities, so the league's mandate puts everybody back on a level playing field in terms of draft preparation. Yet for some, like Saints GM Mickey Loomis, that's not enough.
"I'd be personally in favor of delaying the draft, so that we could get some of the work done that our scouts and personnel people ordinarily do,” Loomis told Peter King on the latter's podcast (via Pro Football Talk). "And then just the logistics of trying to conduct the draft with not having access to your draft rooms and your offices creates a lot of logistic problems. This is not a fantasy draft that you conduct out there with just a list of things on a piece of paper. There's a lot of things that go into it to prepare, and there’s a lot of work that is done during the draft. Listen it’ll be very, very difficult to conduct that and do it in a way that you’re doing justice to the process.
"A large part of the information process hasn’t happened yet. And a lot of that gets done in the months of March and early part of April. And obviously we haven’t been able to do that. It doesn’t make it impossible, and yet it makes it much more of a gamble, much riskier than it would be ordinarily."
This is a natural concern for GMs, whose jobs largely depend on the success or failure they experience in the draft. They're used to a borderline excessive amount of preparation that includes the now-impossible pro day workouts and player visits to team facilities.
Of course, the challenges might just further separate the best from the worst. Some might consider Ravens GM Eric DeCosta among the best, and while he admits "this is a challenging time" for NFL talent evaluators, he has a plan.
"Rest assured, I’ll be watching every single player in this draft and go back to my days as the college scouting director," DeCosta told the Baltimore Sun. "And we’ll work together, and we’ve got a great staff of people. And even if we can’t be together (at the team facility), we can get on the phone, we can work remote, we can video-conference each other, and we’ll make the best decisions that we can for this club."
That's what the NFL (and the league's team owners who ultimately will have a say in whether the offseason schedule is further altered) likes to hear. The league already canceled public events in Las Vegas on draft week. Chances are it will do whatever it can to ensure the show — or what's left of it — goes on, barring their hand being forced.
The plight of GMs be damned.